Does creativity wither with age?

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Does creativity wither with age?

Hypothesis: No, creativity does not wither with age, though for scientists it appears to.

(1) Knowledge stores. Young people have less knowledge, any idea they generate seems new and original. As aging progresses, stores of knowledge increase and apparent insight is attributable to someone else and dismissed.

Cp ~ 1 /K

K - knowledge store
Cp - self-perceived creativity


(2) The idea queue. As one ages, one develops a large number of ideas. Science, however, unlike blogs, requires more than ideas, they must be tested. Once a sufficient number of ideas is generated, the service rate of testing constrains the number of ideas through the bottleneck of publication. New ideas arrive and sit at the back of the queue unless
(a). a queue jumper is installed, or
(b). the queue is a stack - unfortunately, working on only the most recent ideas may be seen as "flighty."

(3) Advertising. A third related factor facing faculty is the need for "advertising". A new idea to take root must be beat into the ground. This requires multiple papers, presentations, etc. on essentially the same topic (with of course each paper being an important contribution supporting the whole line of argument, with new empirical evidence, a different model, alternative parameters, related questions). Would that I could say it once and the whole world would hear. Every moment doing something similar is one less moment I could be doing something quite different.

(4) Resistance. The academic system, like all self-preserving systems, is geared away from new ideas. Several factors are at play.
(a) once tenured, the existential pressure (publish or *perish*) is off
(b) publication is easier for minor adaptations and new ideas than for more radical notions (rich ideas get richer).
(c) professional duties require passing on existing ideas (teaching the curriculum) more than professing new ones.
(d) committees/administrivia suck energy from creative people.
(e) money for new faculty is less restricted than others? [I am not sure whether this holds]
(f) older people are more likely to have children, which also suck away time available.

(5) Time budgets. Communication of ideas is inversely proportional to the generation of ideas. A time budget allows you to generate ideas or communicate them, the more you generate, the less time for communication, and vice versa. The more other things one is doing, the fewer the number of ideas generated.

(6) The nature of idea generation may change. Idea generation can be inductive or deductive


(a) For existing problems and solutions ... one can parameterize the question and explore the relevant parameterized space.
(b) Alternatively one can borrow / steal / transfer ideas from related disciplines. (Good artists copy, great artists steal.)

One can take an existing problem - formalize it, and then apply scientific method. This is good for "normal science" but is less likely to achieve real breakthroughs. We need to identify new problems, or new hypotheses for existing problems to make important contributions.

Deductive
Practice ------------> Theory
<------------
Inductive

With age, deductive reasoning may become more common and inductive reasoning less so, perhaps because of the "knowledge store" problem discussed above.

(7) Dysfunctions: A major dysfunction with idea generation is the generation of useless or damaging or wrong ideas. The main punishment for this is either wasted time (if it is not published), or shame and humiliation (if one does get published with a wrong idea). Of course many wrong ideas may be necessary to find right ones. However as one advances, the cost of punishment rises, particularly for public wrong ideas. A young person with a dumb idea is quickly forgotten, as there was no reputation to lose, a famous person with a wrong idea loses reputation.

(9) An alternative hypothesis is that creativity does wither with age. Though I don't like this one as much (for obvious reasons, it implies I will be less creative as I get older). A possible explanation is that older people have "hardened" brains, so new connections are harder to establish. Lots of biology may explain why this is so.

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See also this: http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/pto-20070622-000002.xml

Ten Politically Incorrect Truths About Human Nature
Why most suicide bombers are Muslim, beautiful people have more daughters, humans are naturally polygamous, sexual harassment isn't sexist, and blonds are more attractive.
By:Alan S. Miller Ph.D., Satoshi Kanazawa Ph.D.

especially item 7.

David Levinson

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This page contains a single entry by David Levinson published on July 7, 2007 2:31 PM.

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