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Jay Currie

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6/01/2005

The Getting of Wisdom

Glenn Reynolds has an interesting piece up at TechCentralStation on the educational and creative consequences of 150-300 year human lifespans.

Would people who lived to 150 or 300 take time to retool? And, if they did, would they be as creative as they were when they were fresh out of school?

I'm not sure. On the one hand, people who live to 300 can't expect to coast for a lifetime on the intellectual capital of their youth. And the opportunity costs in terms of lost time would be much lower as a percentage of lifespan than they are for a 55-year-old today.
techcentralstation
the argument that there is an intense burst of creativity when a person is relatively young and then a long decline into a rather cantankerous obstructionism in old age is more than a little showorn when 60 is the new 40 and hundred year olds are the fastest growing cohort in America.

While in areas such as math, theoretical physics and music, there seems to be a rush to the peak and then a tenured slow slope to retirement, this is not nearly as true in the biological sciences or medicine. In the arts there are certainly young geniuses; but there are also men like Picasso or Augustus John who simply never stop creating.

There are some diciplines which are about the flash of insight which leads to the great discovery, there are others where simply accumulating the language, the vocabulary needed to produce great work takes years:

Take a look at this:

picture of a tree painted by Piet Mondrian in 1908 when he was 36, and this:



done over thirty years later. Mondrian had gone well past the skilled draughtmanship and Impressionist leanings of his thirties into a deeper, more complicated understanding of painting, colour and form. The earlier piece is a very good painting of a tree, the later is a brilliant exposition of what painting actually is. But Mondrian could not have come to "Composition 8" without having painted "The Red Tree".

While flashes of insight may be a young persons game, mastery almost never is.