chapter 9 - creative aging
- in our sample, productivity did not decline either; if anything, it increase in the later years
- recent studies suggest that not only quantity but quality is retained with age, and some most memorable work in a peron's career is done in the later years
what changes with age?
- surprisingly, when all the answers are taken into account, the number of positive changes reported is almost twice the number of negative ones
- the answers to the question about what has changed in the last twenty to thirty years fall naturally into four basic categories. the deal with changes in physical and cognitive capacties, in habits and personal traits, in relationships with the field, or in relationships with domains. in addition, changes in each of these fours categories tend to have either or a positive or a negative valence - thus generating eight possible kinds of outcome
physical and cognitive capacties
- psychologists have long made a distinction between two broad types of mental abilities
- the first is what they call fluid intelligence, or the ability to respond rapidly, to have quick reaction times, to compute fast and accurately. this type of intelligence is aupposedly innate and little affected by learning. each later decade shows some decrease in these skills, and after age seventy the decline is usually quite severe even among otherwise healthy individuals
- the second type of mental ability is known as crystallized intelligence. it is more dependent on learning than on innate skills. it involved making sensible judgements, recognizing similarities across different categories, usuing induction and logical reasoning. these abilities depend more on reflection than quick reaction and they usually increase with time, at least until sixty years of age. in our sample of creative individuals, it is this kind of mental ability that is supposed to be improving, or at least staying stable, even in the ninth decade of life
- the positive claim is based on the contention that because of greater experience and better understanding they can now accomplish things faster and better than before
habits and personal traits
- the second category of changes people reported involved issued of discipline and attitude. negative changes almost always involved too much pressure and too little time, with the person taking the blame for not learning to avoid overcommitment. the positive outcomes featured diminished anxiety over performance, being less driven, and exhibiting more courage, confidence and risk taking
- several respondents mentioned having learned from past mistakes or criticism of their work
- the negative impact of time pressure was turned around by several respondents who felt good about having become master of their own time. again we see that the same event, in this case excessive demands on one's time and psychic energy, can have either a positive or negative valence, depending on what the person does with it.
relationships with the field
- another fourth of the responses dealt with changes in the relationship wiht colleagues, students and institutions
- but with age, it is also possible to acquire to greater centrality in the field, or to develop new form of association, especially with students
relationships with domains
- the last categy of answers that respondents gave to the question of what has changed in their life during the past decasdes has to do with the acquitision of knowledge. we can lose physical energy and cognitive skills, we can lose the power and prestige of social position, but symbolic domains remain always accessible and their rewards remain fresh will the end of life
always one peak more
- this kind of future orientation was typical. there was very little reminiscing and dwelling on past success in this group; everyone's energies were focused on tasks still to be accomplished
the sources of meaning
- accoridng to Eric Erikson, the last psychological stage that people confront in their lives is what he called the task of achieving integrity. what he meant by this is that if we live long enough and if we resolve all the ealier tasks of adulthood - such as developing a viable identiy, a close and satisfying intimacy, and if we succeed in passing on our genes and our values through generativity - then there is a last remaining task that is essential for our full development as a human being. this consists in bringing together into a meaningful story our past and present, and in reconciling ourselves with the approaching end of life.
- the notion of integrity connotes the ability to tie together, to relate to others outside oneself
- following the ins and outs of our respondents' answers to the question about rpdive, we conclude, like the rest of the world, they also stress in their personal narrative the twin themes of work and love
facing the infinite
- at the time of the interviews, all of our respondents were still actively involved in family and work projects that reflected the main themes of their lives. but often their interest had broadened to include larger issues; politics, human welfare, the environment, and occassionally transcendental concerns with the future of the universe. interestingly, in entering the last decades of life, none of them appear to have embraced an orthodox religious faith
- wisdom and integrity cannot be found in any single domain. a broader viewpoint that breaks across disciplinary boundaries is needed, a way of understanding that combines knowing and sensing, feeling and judging. but by this time a person aspiring to wisdom knows that the bottom line of a well-lived life is not so much success but the certainty we reach, in the most private fibers of our being, that our existnece is linked in a meaningful way with the rest of the universe.