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Friday, September 28, 2012

Creativity and Wisdom in Aging

Creativity and Wisdom in Aging[i]

         In the introduction of his book the author, Dr. Simonton presents the idea that while humans share a number of traits with other animals like being able to discriminate, form concepts, and move with goals in mind. (Very clear when my cat meows at the door and when the door opens she runs to her food bowl) we humans do have two very special abilities, wisdom and creativity.  This post will attempt to convey some of the information in his book about how these processes work for us. 
         He first discusses wisdom. I want to give a quote that has special importance to me because I spend a great deal of time developing the “skill” of staying in the “here and now.”
         “The first capacity is wisdom. Rather than live from moment to moment with minimal reflection and even less foresight, human beings can acquire a broad perspective on life, discerning a larger view of life’s meaning than permitted by a hand to mouth subsistence.”  I can evaluate the past and set goals for the future. A problem is that I often get attached to thoughts about the past and the future and it’s difficult to let go of them when I should be paying attention to what I’m doing.
         Creativity is the next capacity that Dr. Simonton discusses. He tells us that creativity is “a hallmark of our species.”  As everyone knows not all creativity is wise and later in the chapter he gives a broader description about wisdom.        
         A difference between the two is that creativity is divergent thinking while a convergent process, connected to intelligence, characterizes wisdom.  It has been studied for centuries and is described as a key human characteristic.
         He presents three indicators of the creative process.
a)   Creative production varies. It rises quickly to a peak and then tends to decline slowly depending on the creativity content.  This is an example of what can be described as an “age curve.”  The curve depends on the nature of the creative process including “novel writing, history, philosophy, and general scholarship”
b)   The relation between quantity and quality is somewhat more complicated although through out artist’s careers quantity and quality are positively connected.
c)   In lifetime output there’s variety
·   Some show creativity quite early
·   For some, like great psychologists, there is no       age correlation.

        While wisdom has been around for a long time psychologists have begun studying it more recently. Eric Eriksson’s theory of wisdom development was first published in the late fifties, just as I was graduating from high school and beginning my university adventure.
         The last sage of his theory, in late life, “…is the final conflict between integrity and despair, the favorable resolution of which yields renunciation and wisdom” That of course does not mean that we all make the right choices.

    So, it would appear the wisdom and creativity may have a somewhat contrary relationship.  It would appear the creativity reaches a high point in middle adulthood, with the note that this depends on what kind of creativity we are talking about.  Next because quality and quantity are connected the quality of creativity is not associated with decline  “…those who begin their careers early and maintain prolific level of output will be expected to continue productivity until late in life.” 
    Finally, while there seems to be a difference in lifelong development of creativity and wisdom it could be that they converge, there is still much work that needs to be done.  I need to quit now because I have an acrylic painting upstairs that I’ve been working on for three days.  And, I hope I haven’t caused confusion and I highly recommend that you get a hold of the book cited below; it’s great

[i]  Simonton, D. K. (1990) Chapter 19 In The Handbook of the Psychology of             Ageing (3rd Ed) Academic press   978-0121012649

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