Albert Einstein……………………………………………………John Dewey

Well, it turns out that while physicists and poets can kiss their most productive years good-bye when they are barely out of adolescence, philosophers and other types of humanists just keep ticking…peaking in their late 40’s and 50’s but with hardly any drop off after that.  At least so says Dean Simonton, a psychologist at UC-Davis.  The lead on this comes from a post on Andrew Sullivan’s site today,“The Age of Brilliance.”

Sullivan quotes a piece by Jonah Lehrer:

While physics, math and poetry are dominated by brash youth, many other fields are more amenable to middle age. (Simonton’s list includes domains such as “novel writing, history, philosophy, medicine”.) He argues that these fields show a very different creative curve, with a “a leisurely rise giving way a comparatively late peak, in the late 40s or even 50s chronologically, with a minimal if not largely absent drop-off afterward” (italics added).

Do I believe it?  I guess it depends on how one measures “productivity,” among other factors.  But it’s nice to know that one researcher in this area thinks that the twilight years can still be golden years for those engaged in studying philosophy or writing novels.  (But then again, there are poets who have done their best work later in life.  Perhaps we shouldn’t leave it to psychologists to evaluate these matters.)

Btw, John Dewey was in his mid-seventies when he wrote and published Art As Experience, which is considered by many to be one of his most important books.  He published his, Logic: The Theory of Inquiry, a work of more than 500 pages, when he was nearly 80.  Einstein, best work in his 20’s through his mid-30’s.

2 thoughts

  1. I’ve always thought this in regard to writers. Vladimir Nabokov, for example, seems to have peaked in his 60’s – 70’s. And old doctors and nurses are like zen masters, I had a cardiologist great uncle in his 80’s who could diagnose a wart over the phone.

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