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4 minutes reading time (781 words)

Can Scientists Do Great Research As They Grow Older?

As I was growing up, I was taught that scientists did their best work before age 30. I believed this statement and used it from time to time as I reached and then passed that magical age.

Recently I read an article by Cristina Luiggi. It indicates that the "best work before age 30" assertion had some validity  in the past, but is now out of date. 

The article begins with traditional examples such as:

Isaac Newton was just 23 years old when, while on a brief hiatus from Cambridge University, he developed his theory of gravitation. “For in those days I was in my prime of age for invention, and minded mathematics and philosophy more than at any time since,” he later wrote in a letter to a fellow scholar.

Similarly, at age 26, Einstein published the paper on the photoelectric effect that would win him a Nobel Prize 16 years later in 1921. Marie Curie was around 30 when she, along with her husband Pierre, discovered the radioactive elements radium and polonium (Luiggi, 11/8/2011).

However, here are results from a recent study reported in the same article by Luiggi:

Their analysis of 525 Nobel Prize winners (182 in physics, 153 in chemistry, and 190 in medicine) between 1900 and 2008, revealed that while the mean age at which they did their Nobel-prize winning work was around 37 for the three fields in the early 20th century, they are now around 50, 46, and 45 for Physics, Chemistry, and Medicine, respectively.

That makes me feel a little better. Unfortunately, I just turned 75. Moreover, there are no Nobel prizes given in math education, computer education, or brain science applied to those areas. So, I cannot look forward to receiving a Nobel prize.

However, here is the really good news. I have come to think of myself as an educational philosopher. I understand that philosophers tend to become wiser as they grow older. They have had enough time to integrate a large collection of data, information, and knowledge. This careful integration produces wisdom.

Wisdom: The quality or state of being wise; knowledge of what is true or right coupled with just judgment as to action; sagacity, discernment, or insight. See http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/wisdom

Here are three questions for you to ponder. How old does a person need to be in order to begin having some wisdom? Can wisdom be taught? Can a computer be wise?

I find the third question to be particularly  interesting. Computers routinely make decisions. For example, think of an airplane's  automatic pilot. Are the decisions made by computers wise decisions? In essence, the computer's decision-making capabilities are based on computer programs. So one might argue that the wisdom of a computer is wisdom imparted by computer programmers.

I believe that the teaching of wisdom is integrated into our informal and formal educational systems. Of course, it takes some of us longer than others to integrate some of these pearls of wisdom we are taught into our everyday thinking.

Here are a few quotes that I have collected about wisdom. See http://iae-pedia.org/Quotations_Collected_by_David_Moursund.

The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom. (Isaac Asimov; Russian-born American author and biochemist; 1920–1992.)

The first step to wisdom is silence. The second is listening. (Chinese proverb.)

Before you become too entranced with gorgeous gadgets and mesmerizing video displays, let me remind you that information is not knowledge, knowledge is not wisdom, and wisdom is not foresight. Each grows out of the other, and we need them all. (Arthur C. Clarke; British science fiction author, inventor, and futurist; 1917–2008.)

Wisdom is not a product of schooling, but of the life-long attempt to acquire it. (Albert Einstein; German-born theoretical physicist and 1921 Nobel Prize winner; 1879–1955.)

What You Can Do

Think about some of the wisdom you have acquired and how you acquired it. Discuss the ideas of acquiring and having wisdom with your acquaintances and students. Ask your students about their insights into what it means to be wise and how they could become wise. 

Suggested Readings from IAE and Other Publications

You can use Google to search all of the IAE publications.

Click here to begin.

Then click in the IAE Search box that is provided, insert your search terms, and click on the Search button.

Click here to search the entire collection of IAE Blog entries.

Here are some examples of publications that might interest you.

Computational thinking. See http://iae-pedia.org/Computational_Thinking.

Crowdsourcing to improve education. See http://iae-pedia.org/Crowdsourcing_to_Improve_Education.

Two brains are better than one. See http://iae-pedia.org/Two_Brains_Are_Better_Than_One.

Video games. See http://iae-pedia.org/Video_Games

Reference

Luiggi, C. (11/8/2011). Q & A: Aging Geniuses. The Scientist. Retrieved 11/10/2011 from http://the-scientist.com/2011/11/08/qa-aging-geniuses/.

 

IAE

A Miracle of Modern Medical Technology
Isaac Asimov: The Relativity of Wrong
 

Comments

David Moursund (website) on Tuesday, 11 June 2013 16:08
Progress based on computer technology is still continuing very rapidly

Written by davem, November 15, 2011.

At my newly reached age of 75, I suspect that I have reached the age of wisdom if I am ever going to do so. In looking back, many of my accomplishments were certainly not based on wisoom and having good insights into the world. I just kept plugging away on what I believed was the right thing to be doing at the time.

I was lucky or insightful in my selection of "the right thing" being rapidly improving technology—especially technology based on computers. Early on (in the 1960s) as I focused on computer technology,I felt that I was already too late—that the great discoveries and progress in this field had already occurred. Wow, was I wrong! Now, more than 50 years later, it seems to me that the best is yet to come.

Written by davem, November 15, 2011. At my newly reached age of 75, I suspect that I have reached the age of wisdom if I am ever going to do so. In looking back, many of my accomplishments were certainly not based on wisoom and having good insights into the world. I just kept plugging away on what I believed was the right thing to be doing at the time. I was lucky or insightful in my selection of "the right thing" being rapidly improving technology—especially technology based on computers. Early on (in the 1960s) as I focused on computer technology,I felt that I was already too late—that the great discoveries and progress in this field had already occurred. Wow, was I wrong! Now, more than 50 years later, it seems to me that the best is yet to come.
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