On Wednesday, 9 December 2015 at 07:49:58 UTC, Rory McGuire wrote:
The number of scarily intelligent people aged over 60 is most likely a lot higher than the number of 25 year olds that are so. Its just the way our brains work, your brain optimises its thought processes continually, and
experience is where you get that.


Indeed a very complex matter. In late teens we are probably quicker and learn more easily than later in life. After 25 I don't know how much slow down there has been, but as you get older you also can narrow down which trains of thought that are promising so you use your labour more efficiently. A 20 years old is going all over the place, a 50 years old will ask more questions of what is necessary to get the job done. Which is why the army only want youngsters (<25), older people would just ask too many legitimate questions about how the army is organized...

In research the lack of direction of younger people can be an advantage in terms of finding new fields (e.g. looking in the not so promising areas) at the cost of higher failure rate. The Norwegian mathematician Abel probably did his findings due to not having an advisor to guide him all the way, so he was looking at math from his own angle. But finding new fields is just a very very small part of research, although it makes people famous. So yes, there are more famous young researchers, not because they are smarter, but because they are ignorant enough to walk into new terrain and probably also because they have something to prove before they get tenure. Besides, a lot of discoveries are the result of mistakes or misunderstandings. Young people make mistakes at a higher frequency. Often a bad thing, sometimes a good thing.

Although very young people learn more efficiently, we also have to remember that learning is a skill too, so I think it matters more that one learns continuously and find better ways of learning as one gets older. People who keep their brain active can learn new languages at the age of 80, and in comparison even most teens have trouble learning a new language, yet 2 year olds learn languages like crazy!

So, yeah, 2 year olds are much much better at learning than any other age group. Much better. Are they smarter, than the rest of us? On some metrics they probably are. They consider everything from a fresh angle. But older people can do that too, by training and techniques.

Did I learn faster at the age of 18, than at the age of 40? Yes. Did I learn new technology faster at the age of 25 than at the age of 40? No, I think I learn faster now. Not because the brain is faster, but because I don't need to learn the basics as frequently. But I notice that it is more important to stay active (keep programming) as one gets older.

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