Huffington blog DARE TO BE 100

March 17, 2018


I have had a long-standing interest in wisdom. It was nourished by friendship with Paul and Margaret Baltes. They led the important Berlin Longitudinal Aging Study, and did central work with the psychologic profile of older people. Wisdom was one of the main foci in their studies.

They would pose complex and often ambiguous queries. Such as “what would you say when your best friend of 30 years approaches you and says that he is going to commit suicide tomorrow?” Or what would you say when your 15-year-old daughter approaches and says “she is going to get married next week?”

The Baltes’s had a graded rating scale for the responses that included the subject’s capacity for deep analytic reasoning. After years of study they concluded first that very few people are wise. Most people are Archie Bunker throw a chair type when confronted with such challenge. But second they noted that most of the high raters were old. Summing their results they concluded very few people are wise but most wise people are old.

The importance of time in the development of wisdom was recognized by Dr. Marian Diamond of UC Berkeley. I have included her cartoon of a single brain cell with its nucleus and axon and dendrites. The juvenile primitive cell has one or two branches reflecting the neuroanatomy of instinct. With time more branches are noted representing rationality. As more time passes further branching occurs leading to the eventual full arborization of wisdom. Such a graphic representation is gratifying.

A recent Internet posting headlined “how wise are you? take the test here.” It consists of a series of questions formulated by 24 psychologists in San Diego. They solicit your degree of agreement, on a 1-5 scale, with the following six assertions:

1) I enjoy being exposed to diverse viewpoints

2) I have a difficult time keeping friendships

3) It is important that I understand my actions

4) I cannot filter my negative emotions

5) I tend to postpone making major decisions as long as I can

6) Others look to me to help them make choices

Your responses both accordant and discordant are checked against a standard. A wisdom score is generated. Are you Buddha or Archie Bunker? Are you reflective or do you throw chairs?

Tonight is the first night of my 10 week Science of Longevity continuing education course at Stanford. I have taught it many times before, at Stanford, UC Berkeley, Santa Barbara, Santa Clara University, and the Portola Valley library. Thus it is very rehearsed. But this time it is different. It will reflect the totality of life events that have since intruded and remolded my brain cells.

I am older.

I am wiser.

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