Wisdom with Age

Many people speak of wisdom as being related to age, that, as one gets older, one has had more time to assimilate the experiences of one’s life and that with the assimilation one gains what is referred to as wisdom. This argument came up on NPR this morning during a discussion concerning genetically enhanced longevity, but I had issue with their reasoning.

Wisdom is, by nature, a philosophical pursuit, and, is cultivated through the seeking of philosophical truths. When people refer to age bringing wisdom, they are, for the most part, using the term wisdom properly, but their motivator of “experience” is not at the heart of the phenomenon. Much more central to the matter is death.

As we get older we become more aware of our own mortality. It happens in youth when a child first discovers that he or she is not the only living being, and then when that child first realizes that every living thing is finite, and later one with the death or a parent or sibling. Each of these events can bring about a level of wisdom, a new perspective on life, if you prefer, in the person.

One such event, one which is perhaps the most important in terms of wisdom, is the realizationa and acceptance of your own death. It is this realization on a philosophical level that can allow a person to grow wiser with age, without it that person is doomed to morbidly cling to strands of youth and false immortality. Extension of the human lifespan through genetics will, for many, only prolong the process of realization.

As humans we are all forced to someday come to terms with the fact that we will end and that there is absolutely nobody who can take that end away or experience it for us. Your death is, above all else, that which is most yours.

One of the best short essays I have read on the subject was “How to Grow Old” by Bertand Russell in Portraits from Memory and Other Essays

4 thoughts on “Wisdom with Age

  1. I can’t think of anything quite smart enough to say in reply.. But I’d never thought of death as being the primary catalyst for wisdom and it makes a lot of sense.

  2. This makes complete sense to me. However, after the first reading, it sounded as if realization was to replace the assimilation of experience as what is referred to as wisdom. Looking it over again, it seemed that wasn’t what was implied, which, in my mind, means realization and experience both contribute to “wisdom.” The weird thing is, I don’t see the actual relation between experience and realizaion. Unless of course, experience causes the realization, in which case, experience is then again “at the heart” of the phenomenom. Thoughts?

  3. An experience is generally what spurs somebody’s metaphorical ‘death,’ the moment when an old way of thinking is lost and a new way must be found, the discovery of that new way is a ‘rebirth.’ So, in most cases, it requires some sort of shock to bring about a new realization, but while that may be the case, experience itself is not what is causing the wisdom, but rather the philosophical implications of the experience that result in a new realization. Experience is not the heart because it does not bring about new wisdom; one can have the experience without the wisdom, but one cannot have the wisdom without the realization.

    It is tricky to actually explain anything like this in a concise way, as philosophers write entire books on the subject, but what I wrote was meant to be a very shallow introduction. If you were to pick apart the words in it all you will run into endless equivocations and self-falsifying statements, but I hope that it will be taken for what is and inspire some thought on the subject.

  4. “If you were to pick apart the words in it all you will run into endless equivocations and self-falsifying statements…”

    Well, isn’t that a major part of one’s philosophical pursuit? 😛

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