Nebraska Revisited

This post is in response to an offline retort to the last post, Nebraska, where the mariner suggested there is a mindset associated with one’s age, not one’s activity:

Each of us is required by the order of our genetic code to move along through these generations as we age.”

The respondent’s objections were examples of activity. The mariner agrees with the examples offered as demonstrative of a given age. All were activities appropriate to an age related behavior. The respondent is on the right track, however, with the suggestion that wisdom is an element of old age.

Is wisdom dependent on IQ? Is wisdom dependent on extroversion or introversion? Is wisdom dependent on wealth? Is wisdom dependent on what kind of activities one performs? No. Wisdom is a constant among all older folk. The relative value of a given person’s wisdom may change just as the size of a circle changes the relative value of PI. It is generally accepted that “wisdom” is a constant with older age. Wisdom is not smartness. Homo sapiens is smartest in the late teens and early twenties. Countless studies have shown that smartness has an exponential downturn through the rest of the lifespan. Still, wisdom emerges.

If a five-year-old cannot be wise, perhaps they are innocent. They do not know that they are innocent, they just are – it comes with the age.

The teenager, awash in chemicals and self-examination, is in a state of discovery – without trying. They just are.

By the time one is thirty-five, discovery diminishes as maturity becomes the physiological phase. It is the age of accomplishment. How well one accomplishes is a measure of activity (see activity theory). Nonetheless, it is the age where Homo sapiens has the best mix of experience, knowledge, and self-assuredness – without trying.

It is the mariner’s feeling that, holistically, our species is not designed to live much longer than the age of accomplishment as strength and health become issues. Without artificial life extension provided by clothing, artificial heat, improvements in health and medicine, etc, most would increasingly fail and die. Should one live beyond the prime age of accomplishment, participation in accomplishment begins to wane. Yet if one lives beyond critical usefulness, one is considered “wise” simply because they have survived the vagaries associated with long life.

In years gone by, it was interesting that Johnny Carson would invite centenarians to be guests on his television show and inevitably ask them what the secret to longevity was. The answers were often funny but seldom, if ever, scientifically correct.

Wisdom is a constant among all old folk. It means that old folk feel less of a primordial need to accomplish as their mindset has moved on to “be wise”. This can be depressing to some and a relief to others. No matter the emotions or “activity,” physiologically, one is old – just as the child is innocent, the youth discovers, the mature accomplishes, the old are wise. And none of the above even knows that their physiological clock is controlling these underlying patterns.

Perhaps, with another millennia or two, our bodies will catch up with our brains.

In earlier history, the Japanese had an interesting approach to leaders who grew too old. They were given absolute authority to pass judgment on a situation – when asked. They were given supernumerary status because of their wisdom but did not have to don helmets or swords. Consider the U.S. Supreme Court….

Ancient Mariner




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