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GENERATIONS: Evan Hazard: 'That's a very good question'

What do you do when you have nobody to talk to, no cell phone or computer or even paper and pencil, no musical instrument, no radio or TV, just your personal resources? It is too hot, cold, wet, or windy out. There's just you and the furniture. If anyone else is there, they're doing their own thing, and would just as soon you do yours.

We've noted before that this happens even in a crowd, as long as nobody is disruptive. On the Green Line in the Twin Cities or the Seventh Avenue subway in Manhattan, folks mostly keep to themselves, hoping the next person won't ask "Ride here often?" or "Are you saved?"

Evan Hazard

Most of our minds, I think, are busy even when we're alone and not actively engaged. We move from topic to concern to topic, even when "bored stiff." Our thoughts may be undirected, but suddenly we hit on something that leads to something else, and away we go. This could lead to a Nobel or a Pulitzer, but likely not. Most often, perhaps, something in our train of thought resurrects an entirely different item and the preceding bit never gets past short-term memory.

One place this happens is at Sanford's Orthopedics and Sports Medicine gym, formerly known as Peak Performance. Before a workout, I often show up with a coffee and a Dove dark chocolate. Those, you may know, have a suggestion inside the foil wrapper, which may set off a train of thought. Recently, I told one of Peak's several therapists (the rest are men) that one said, "Make the first move." Oh?, my 88-year old brain thought, "and then what?"

Workouts often involve counting, which conflicts with random thinking, or the opposite: thinking makes me lose count.

If nobody close by is there, I often think up a storm, or even talk softly to myself or converse with somebody who is not really there. Another colleague at BSU used to talk to himself audibly in the hallway, though not loudly enough to understand. Had all his marbles; didn't seem to diminish his classroom performance any. Wonder what he talked about?

When Peak is almost empty, I may talk to someone who isn't there, but also gesture. (It's fun to watch people do this on their cell or landline.) Maybe I was basically lecturing; that's how I made my living for three and a half decades. But more likely I was explaining something to another non-existent person, or a small group.

Examples: This is why or how energy flows once through an ecosystem whereas materials cycle, perhaps with some leakage, especially in manipulated ecosystems, such as grain fields. Another: New species can arise from ancestral ones much faster than you think, as among some leafroller moths in Hawaii (wrote about that in June '07). Or: Hemophilia is inherited just like red-green colorblindness, so women whose dads are hemophiliacs might consider not having children of their own. Or: Multiple ovulation in women is common, but multiple births are rare. Therefore, most fertilized eggs must fizzle.

Real and imaginary companions also ask about other things, things I often know little about. Problem is threefold or more. 1.) We geezers have been around forever, so must know everything. (People also often address us as "Sir.") 2.) I write all sorts of stuff here, so must be very learned, and details in this column may be challenging for some. 3.) People know I'm an emeritus professor and professor know lots. 4.) If the Family Waiting job is not busy in Sanford's west lobby, I'm often reading a book. 5.) I'm a known, if unorthodox, churchgoer.

So, when I talk to myself, I'm often dealing with queries people have actually posed, or queries like those. If I'm at Peak over two hours for an hour's workout, it's because we've been busy.

It's worse when I sing, very quietly, so nobody hears. You may have done that, in a voice so muted that you can just feel the notes in your voice box. With me, it's often Gilbert & Sullivan: "When I was a lad" (Pinafore), "If you're anxious for to shine" (Patience), "When Britain really ruled the waves" (Iolanthe), "I stole the prince" (Gondoliers), "There lived a king" (also Gondoliers). Current favorite is a duet, "I once was a very abandoned person" (Ruddigore); I do both the male and female parts, with measured silences while the orchestra plays for the "blameless dances" the couple does.

You cannot sing and count reps at the same time. Conversely, after counting reps for a time, what is your brain doing as you head down the hall? "Step 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, ... ." Usually, that is over long before I get home or wherever. Usually.

Evan Hazard is a retired BSU biology professor.