Older = Wiser?

"The Blackstone Chair" -- From 1451 until the mid 19th century at the University of Glasgow, all students were examined orally seated on the Black Stone, a slab of stone. The stone was embedded in an oak chair in 1775-6. At the top is a time glass. When the sand has flowed through (20 minutes) the exam has ended. The chair is still used for the Cowan Medal exam in Classics.
University of Glasgow’s “Blackstone Chair” — From 1451 until the mid 19th century, students took oral exams seated on the Black Stone, a slab of stone. The stone was embedded in an oak chair in 1775-6. Once the sand flowed through (20 minutes), time was up! The chair is still used for the Cowan Medal exam in Classics.

ry=400-2People of a certain age group 🙂  get frustrated when we sometimes can’t remember a word or name or place when we know we know… So frustrating! It can feel like we are sitting in the Blackstone Chair and can’t remember the answer to the question we know we know! Indeed, research shows that cognitive function slows as people age. But, guess what?

Speed isn’t everything.

A recent study pointed out that older people have much more information in their brains than younger ones. Retrieving it takes longer. But while younger people are faster in tests of cognitive performance, older people show “greater sensitivity to fine grained differences” (Topics in Cognitive Science).

What exactly does that mean?

Greater sensitivity to fine grained differences = wisdom

Sociology professor Monika Ardelt (University of Florida, Gainesville) has developed a scale consisting of 39 questions aimed at measuring three dimensions of wisdom. This is what she learned:

Wise people are more likely to have better coping skills.

Wise people are able to accept reality as it is, with equanimity.

Wise people are less self-centered.

But there is one condition: Wisdom requires a continued desire to learn.

The Berlin Wisdom Project, started in the 1980s, sought to define wisdom by studying ancient and modern texts. Professor Ursula M. Staudinger concluded that true personal wisdom involves five elements:


The ability to demonstrate personal growth

Self-awareness in terms of your historical era and your family history;

Understanding that priorities and values, including your own, are not absolute;


An awareness of life’s ambiguities.

My conclusion: It’s all about learning. Let’s keep learning, no matter how young or old we are, and stop fretting about remembering every single word. Besides, I’ve found that sometimes those forgettable moments can lead to marvelous laughter and hugs.

One Comment

  • Carolyn Goodart

    This memory problem is a funny business for me. I’ve discovered that if I can’t remember a name, or a word, it will come to me–out-of-the-blue when I least expect it! Something I’m trying to remember will just pop in my head later on! But what I find even more amazing is how we find ourselves remembering the same event or occasion differently than others remember it. One of my favorite films is “Roshoman” because it shows this phenomenon.

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