I have long been terrified by age-related mental decline. Biology uses the word “senescence” to describe the aging of an organism after it has reached its adult form, and among scientists, the general consensus seems to be that this type of aging is simply a defect in the system. As a person who was, at the very least, rigorously trained as a scientist, I have tended to take that view by default and believe that the usual popular banter about the alleged benefits of aging—that one acquires “wisdom,” or “perspective,” or “maturity,” or what-have-you—is just so much cloud-lining.
But even at the relatively young age of 35, I can’t really lie to myself about the naked empirical facts: I do not remember names, dates, or places as well as I used to. I make spelling errors that I would not have made a decade ago, and I find it noticeably harder to do complex mathematical reasoning than I did at 25. I am more prone to distraction, and my propositional memory seems to be falling off just a bit—the ubiquitous why-the-hell-did-I-come-in-this-room syndrome is becoming more commonplace (although, in fairness, I remember doing that as early as 12 or 13).
But a happy thought occurred to me, today: While I can’t deny that my daily problem-solving abilities have probably declined, slightly, who says daily problem-solving is really what’s important in a deep, philosophical sense? Maybe there is such a thing as wisdom, and maybe what I perceive as a decline in horsepower is really my brain adopting a deeper perspective: Those things that you once thought were so important are not, really. Look deeper.