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ISSN: Print -2349-0977, Online - 2349-4387

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Year : 2015  |  Volume : 2  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 1-3

Savoring the seasons of intellectual trek

1 Editor-in-Chief, Astrocyte and Professor of Radiology at Safdarjung Hospital and VM Medical College, New Delhi, India
2 Executive Director, National Board of Examinations and Executive Editor, Astrocyte

Date of Web Publication26-Oct-2015

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Yatish Agarwal
Editor-in-Chief, Astrocyte and Professor of Radiology at Safdarjung Hospital and VM Medical College, New Delhi
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/2349-0977.168255

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How to cite this article:
Agarwal Y, Batra B. Savoring the seasons of intellectual trek. Astrocyte 2015;2:1-3

How to cite this URL:
Agarwal Y, Batra B. Savoring the seasons of intellectual trek. Astrocyte [serial online] 2015 [cited 2022 Jul 3];2:1-3. Available from: http://www.astrocyte.in/text.asp?2015/2/1/1/168255

The flowers anew, returning seasons bring!

Unless you let the shadows of intellectual menopause grow long,

You may savor a hundred springs,

And, many more!

As we grow older, what happens to our cognitive faculties? Do you think our gray cells go into a steady decline? If you do, think again! There is firm evidence that some of the abilities of intelligence improve throughout substantial parts of adulthood, or at least do not decline as much or as early as other abilities.[1] The age-decrement hypothesis is under serious fire if a recent research published in the august journal Topics in Cognitive Science is to be believed.[2] The work entitled "The Myth of Cognitive Decline: Non-Linear Dynamics of Lifelong Learning" offers a new understanding of perceived wane in cognitive abilities across adulthood. Instead of finding evidence of decline, the work discovered that most standard cognitive measures, which date back to the early 20th century, are flawed.[2]

The researchers found that the human brain works slower in old age only because it stockpiles oodles of information with passing of time. Carrying out simulation studies, they trained computers, like humans, to read a certain amount each day and to learn new things. Two simple models were tried. In the first, the computers were allowed to "read" only a little. In this setting, when the performance of computers was assessed using cognitive tests, their efficiency resembled that of a young adult. They were quick and smart. In the second model, when the same computers were exposed to a multitude of experiences, just as we might encounter over a lifetime—with reading simulated over decades—the performance of the machines mirrored that of an older adult. They were slower, but not because their processing capacity had become weak. Rather, the "increased experience" had simply expanded their database to a much larger size.[2] Researchers found that it was this large size of the database which slowed down the computers since it took them that much longer to process. Quite logical, you may say! However, this simple experiment has important implications for the understanding of age-related human slowdown.

The truth is this ground-breaking research provides a most simple explanation of why, in the light of all the extra information they have to process, we might expect older brains to seem slower and more forgetful than younger brains. The work also shows how changes in test performance that have been taken as evidence for declining cognitive abilities, in fact, demonstrates older adults' greater mastery of the knowledge they have acquired.[2]

Other side of the coin

Before you conclude that this is about all, there's actually a little more to it. Some evidence, found in other studies, seems to suggest that if one lives long enough, decrement in at least some of the important abilities of intelligence is likely to occur.[1] This may, plausibly, have more to do with the metabolic diminution, which one might associate with age-related arterio- and atherosclerotic changes in the cerebral vascular tree. However, since such changes only affect some people, some individuals might easily manage to avoid decrements which affect others.

Perhaps, for this reason, many thinking men and women—be they medical doctors, scientists, social researchers, writers or intellectuals—pursuing their chosen fields of interest continue to blossom and reserve their best for their last years. Look around, and you would find many living examples.

Seasons of intellectual ascent

Keeping oneself focused to enjoy a perennial intellectual spring has many facets to it. You must savor the opportunities and challenge life offers. The road of clinical practice, teaching, and research in medicine may be rocky—thwarted by an unfriendly intellectual atmosphere, reflective sometimes of an undue aggressiveness, selfishness, and lack of tolerance on the part of your peer group—which may make it seem it's far better to quit than to endure, but think, and you would realize the rewards of solid intellectual and professional accomplishments are far mightier than the material gains of status and kudos that an administrative achievement might bring.

The age of maturity is not the time to quit. In fact, it is the time to participate more actively, and more importantly. Strike a sensible balance between clinical practice, teaching, research, administration, and participation in those many things which will enrich your life and the lives of others. Unless this participation is an active process, it soon becomes perfunctory and finally ceases altogether. One must feel the competitive edge, bask in achievement, and suffer the humiliation of error. Without these, it is too easy to succumb to the beckoning of material pleasures and lower one's standards of excellence.

The intellectual menopause marks the end of the creative journey. If you are vigilant, you may easily prevent it, and you must, since it is the most costly waste of caring physicians, stimulating teachers, and scientific manpower, who carry years and years of wisdom. What if, it is punctuated by a bit of clutter!

Intelligence—as Susan Sontag, one of the greats among the 20th century American authors, said—is really a kind of taste… taste in ideas. Unless you savor the taste, you would not know what the taste might be!

  References Top

Horn JL, Donaldson G. On the myth of intellectual decline in adulthood. Am Psychol 1976;31:701-19.  Back to cited text no. 1
Ramscar M, Hendrix P, Shaoul C, Milin P, Baayen H. The myth of cognitive decline: Non-linear dynamics of lifelong learning. Top Cogn Sci 2014;6:5-42.  Back to cited text no. 2


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