December 7, 2011

"Losing It: In which an Aging Professor laments his shrinking Brain..."

That's the name of new book — buy it here — by Michigan lawprof William Ian Miller, who has ripened to the age of 65 years. He gives a fascinating (and not decrepit) interview:
Because we no longer have mandatory retirement, we... must take ourselves out of the game; we have to figure out when we no longer are up to it, no longer worth our salary, no longer wanted, no longer really count for much. How can you rightly read where you stand when your ability to think is decaying at an accelerating pace?...

The book has six parts. The first deals with mental decay.... The second takes on wisdom and casts a fairly jaundiced eye in that direction. What wisdom is to be expected from people whose brains are shrinking, who cannot remember much very well, and who tediously repeat stories, or in the manner of Polonius, give advice the young find boring and manifestly ignorable?...

The third part deals with complaining, the various styles of complaint, such as pissing and moaning, kvetching, lamenting, whining, etc.... The fourth is about retirements from revenge; it is the medieval stuff that got me going on this project.... The fifth part has me dealing with going soft... And last: how to go out in style....
This sounds great. I'm going to read this book. Miller is very sharp, despite his advanced age. You could also read this excerpt from the book if you don't have much time (left).

Miller scoffs at the studies that purport to show that oldies are especially happy folk: "My suspicion is that if there is in fact happiness, it is a symptom of the brain shrinkage that comes with old age, of no longer being able to think very precisely. "

41 comments:

madAsHell said...

Feeling vulnerable?

Me too!!

cubanbob said...

Marvelous. So should we reinstate mandatory retirement ages or just go for the Logan's Run solution?

Scott M said...

So should we reinstate mandatory retirement ages or just go for the Logan's Run solution?

I'm for the latter as long as I get to be a Sandman.

traditionalguy said...

The brain shrinkage sounds like a silly concept.

We only use 8% of the monster brain's capacity at age 25 or 65.

But his self deprecating attitude is attractive.

IMO age brings a wisdom that allows us to see what is important. So what if our physical organs are slightly slower?

The brain's true worth is not super computing...Steve Jobs gave us a better tool to do that anyway.

The wisdom that come with age is what makes life worth living.

gerry said...

There's amnesia in a hangknot,
And comfort in the ax,
But the simple way of poison will make your nerves relax.

There's surcease in a gunshot,
And sleep that comes from racks,
But a handy draft of poison avoids the harshest tax.

You find rest on the hot squat,
Or gas can give you pax,
But the closest corner chemist has peace in packaged stacks.

There's refuge in the church lot
When you tire of facing facts,
And the smoothest route is poison prescribed by kindly quacks.

Chorus:
With an *ugh!* and a groan, and a kick of the heels,
Death comes quiet, or it comes with squeals --
But the pleasantest place to find your end
Is a cup of cheer from the hand of a friend.

-- Jubal Harshaw, "One For The Road"

madAsHell said...

My suspicion is that if there is in fact happiness, it is a symptom of...the pills.

Have you looked at Gramma's medicine cabinet?

Andrea said...

65 isn't that old anymore.

Kevin said...

So should we reinstate mandatory retirement ages

The university I went to had no mandatory retirement age.

It did, however, have a committee of eminent scholars whose job it was to periodically take professors out to lunch and inform them that it really was time for them to retire and assume emeritus status, once it became obvious that the professor could no longer cut it in the classroom.

Dave said...

"We only use 8% of the monster brain's capacity at age 25 or 65."

This is a long standing myth - we use it all. The portion used for conscious thought may be that low, and a very large proportion is used for visual processing.

Scott M said...

This is a long standing myth - we use it all. The portion used for conscious thought may be that low, and a very large proportion is used for visual processing.

My understanding was that we use the whole thing, but at any given time, depending on what we're doing or what's going on around us, we use a different 10 percent constantly.

Jenny said...

Since when is 65 old? Frankly, I think it's a myth. If you take good care of yourself, it's the new 50.

Tyrone Slothrop said...

This hits home. I used to be an ass-kicking Jeopardy player, erstwhile captain of the UAFairbanks College Bowl team, but now I only seem to be able to dredge up trivia answers after painful deliberation. (I'm 57).

On the other hand, though, the idea that I'm happier because I'm stupider is just, well, stupid. At this point in my life there is less in doubt, less to prove, and I'm pretty content with the way things have turned out.

MadisonMan said...

You don't want to retire too early, either. Dad did that (@ 65.5, but he was fed up with being a Dept Head) and he said he ran out of things to do and places to travel to.

Dan in Philly said...

*Sigh* an so we see the foolishness of the modern sophomoric age, which only sees the emperical and ignores the wise. I fear this will further enforce the embrace of young and innocent at the expense of the wise.

If I understand the basic argument, the virtues of age are ignored, and only the shortcomings celebrated. The wisdom of the aged can, it seems, be faithfully ignored, after all these men and women can't remember things well, so why pay any attention to what they do remember? Why bother to think about the fact that they have learned that there's quite a bit of nonsense out there that is really not worth remembering. Who cares which Kardashian is married to the basketball player? The wise man knows that really doesn't matter, but the young man, armed with false insights like these, will take this as further proof of the elders' senility.

Can't we have a study of how stupid the young are, and how if they listened to even a mote of what Polonius actaully said rather than spending all their time ridiculing him they would be far better off? "This above all, to thine ownself be true!" Yup, words worthy of being ignored for being boring.

Ann Althouse said...

I disagree with him about happiness and aging. I'm happier now -- at 60 -- than I've ever been. And even the subject of getting old and dying... that's something that troubled me much more when I was younger. I don't think I'm less mentally sharp, but the experience of emotions changes. When you are younger, you are more geared to competition and fighting for your place in the world. Later, you can see how those things turned out, and you're more able to live in the present and value everything that you have now.

roesch/voltaire said...

There is always Acetyl L-Carnitine to counter the shrinking brain combined with learning a new language or at least memorizing a poem or two. But I agree we now have to decide when to take ourselves out of the game. As I am turning 70, I decided to teach fewer classes to give opportunity to the younger staff, and now each semester I try to honestly evaluate how effective I am based on student achievement and evaluations. Concerning the question of happiness, I might chose the word contentment. Age brings with it less of the drama, and more of the appreciation of simple things in the moment.

J said...

in the manner of Polonius, give advice the young find boring and manifestly ignorable?

One reason Hamlet offs the old fool. Dead for a ducat, pops

Michael said...

Cicero wrote an essay two thousand years ago "On Old Age." The work in question here will not be read in two thousand years. Your choice,of course, but I am finding these choices more important as I approach the finish line. Time is too short to waste on books like this when there are so many others we have not read.

Ann Althouse said...

"You don't want to retire too early, either. Dad did that (@ 65.5, but he was fed up with being a Dept Head) and he said he ran out of things to do and places to travel to."

I can't imagine running out of things to do as long as I could still read, write, and talk to people.

What were these "things" and "places"? You experience them once and move on? I don't get that attitude. I have places I like and go back to often, like the various state parks within a day's drive of Madison. I could drive through the Western United States repeatedly and never run out of stuff to photograph or audiobooks to listen to in the car. Even if I could never leave the house again, I wouldn't run out of things to do.

Michael said...

R-V: Excellent advice to memorize poems. It is certainly way harder now than it was thirty years ago. Worse, I memorize and forget too quickly. I can recite snatches of Middle English I learned in high school but can't get through The Owl and the Pussycat which I memorized last year!!

Dust Bunny Queen said...

But I agree we now have to decide when to take ourselves out of the game.

Ah...but if you continue to play the game, your brain will not atrophy.

Gamers live longer!! Actually to be serious, the exercise, hand eye coordination and the mental calculations (some quite math intensive) required by many online and offline computer games are good exercise for the mind.

Get thee to a game and play.

At 61 and not working in the financial field any longer, I am happy happy and can now turn my mind and energy to other pursuits. Not working doesn't mean not thinking or not growing in other ways.

My husband at 62, loves his work and has no plans to retire or turn the business over to another until it is physically impossible to continue.

Canuck said...

"Since when is 65 old? Frankly, I think it's a myth. If you take good care of yourself, it's the new 50."

A lotta people don't make it to 65. Most people have friends who are dead by that age, even if said friends have taken good care of themselves.

Canuck said...

But if we work our muscles & brains we can slow down the process.

use it or loose it!

Carol said...

The third part deals with complaining,

A friend of mine is in her 70s, and she hangs out with senior groups and one club tried to pair up members to have lunch together - on condition they refrained from complaining about their health. LOL!

Anyway, what Ann said...knowing how things turned out takes a lot of pressure off. I can't believe how much hormones and emotions and fear ruled my actions when I was young.

As for brain shrinkage, I confronted that head-on this year by learning to read music on guitar. Oy what a moron I am. Now I can play by reading but can't remember without the sheet music.

edutcher said...

Every time I forget something (which, of course, is more and more often), I get this feeling.

Ann Althouse said...

"You don't want to retire too early, either. Dad did that (@ 65.5, but he was fed up with being a Dept Head) and he said he ran out of things to do and places to travel to."

I can't imagine running out of things to do as long as I could still read, write, and talk to people.

What were these "things" and "places"? You experience them once and move on?


That's The Blonde's approach, but I can see Ann's point of view. There's always a new dimension to be found in a lot of things.

The Blonde reads a book and tosses it; I read it and, if I find something worthwhile, keep coming back to it.

MadisonMan said...

@Althouse, apparently you are not my father :)

He's very much a Been There Done That kind of person. I think he prefers staying home and reading Science or Nature to travel.

Ann Althouse said...

Travel is overrated. Normal life underrated.

ic said...

"if there is in fact happiness, it is a symptom of the brain shrinkage that comes with old age... "

Ignorance is bliss. Or, maybe when one's foot is already in the grave, one can look at things in a different perspective, amd be less crotchety?

Reinstate mandatory retirement age for members of Congress so they can do less damage to the country with their shrinking brains.

Psychedelic George said...

You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet. ~ Kafka

Bob said...

This guy is a professor at one of the most prestigious law schools in the country, teaching highly talented and motivated young people who are looking to become lawyers. They pay big dough for this, and he teaches them about Icelandic Sagas and "Faking It" (the course description for whicih seems to relate to emotions, but pretty much baffles me). He should be ashamed every time he cashes his paycheck.

Alex said...

So now we have an explanation for why garage's brain is down to the size of a walnut.

mtrobertsattorney said...

When one begins to feel that his or her mental faculties are slowing down is the time to begin reading the classical philosophers. The struggle to understand their philosophical arguments will re-charge those tired brain cells.

Reading Supreme Court decisions just wont do the trick.

Dan in Philly said...

Mrs Meade, the best part of travel is the greater appreciation for your normal life after it is over

Anthony said...

Odd (or maybe not) but most of the anthropology profs I know have enjoyed retiring. . .but not because they were doing nothing, but because they did more research work than they were doing before. Without all of the departmental junk to do, they just did their research and ended up publishing a lot more than they did while teaching. Most also did a lot of traveling, but to conferences and confabs with international colleagues and such. Say they're busy but love it because they're doing something the really like.

traditionalguy said...

The Professor @ 10:01 said it all.

She sure can write good.

ndspinelli said...

Travel is the best education anyone can experience. It gets one out of their little comfortable world of the same coffee shops, book stores, hiking trails, etc. It stretches the comfort zone. It makes one realize they are just a speck in this great world. It is both humbling and inspiring. It helps one not be so full of themself. We love to drive places and also fly places. We even take trains on occassion. I stopped taking buses in college.

SunnyJ said...

Seriously, eveyone's entitled to their own opinion but, the author law professor is not a neurologist, neuroscientist or neuro-rehabilitation professional for sure.

So many myths and misunderstandings written here...keep this in mind: 2 yrs ago 12-18 month old humans did not have "scrolling" techniques and they do now. Neuroplasticity is alive and well and happening to you.

There is no settled science...not global warming and not the human brain. What we thought only a few years ago, has changed.

On the subject enjoy, "Pictures of the Mind: What the New Neuroscience Tells Us About Who We Are."

ricpic said...

When you're young you're bright: in the sense of fast;
Slow earned thoughts come later: perhaps they'll last.

Jose_K said...

This is a long standing myth - we use it all. doubters ask Phineas.
Miller of Anatomy of disgust and Blood feuds?

Jose_K said...

Goethe who is used an an example of the creativity of old age said that when he was young( NB:and Schiller wrote most of his work anyway) he wrote a play in two weeks. Then he was barely writting half a page of Faust.(Eckermann , Conversations with Goethe)He was busy in the court , with the family and lacked inspiration.
Nobody has ever doing anything of value in solid state physics after 30 yo.( Thomas Wolfe)
Most Nobel Prizes , the real ones, P, C and M have been won for work made before 35 yo.
Old and wise? soylent green

William said...

I have found quite a lot of contentment in my later years. I'm unable to find an upside to my upcoming post mortem years however.......My loss of eye-hand quickness has affected me much less than it did Ted Williams. In like way, a shrinking brain has had less effect on my life than it has on that of the average professor. So far as shrinkage goes, there are many other areas I would be more likely to fret and mourn. Still most of the wisdom of age comes from a reduced libido.....We're middle aged until the first debilitating illness. There's some comfort in that old saw, but such an illness is only a half step behind. Well, that just makes the pleasure of the moment more enjoyable. "To love that well which thou must leave ere long."