One way of viewing our current Western discontents is as a consequence (in part at least) of our post-60s valorisation of 'youth culture'. Viewing it as having given rise to a kind of arrested adolescence.... not just in the young but also in my own 'Boomer' generation and beyond. "For is that not what our current, politically correct version of Progress is really about? Ever since Rousseau - ever since Marx - it has been, in essence, an arrested-adolescent mind-game - and a deliciously cost-free one for the well-healed middle class virtue-signaller. Not surprisingly, succeeding generations of real adolescents have lapped it up in spades." https://grahamcunningham.substack.com/p/are-we-making-progress

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This is so spot on. And yet in academia where I work the trend is to think the young students are wiser than their professors. A frequent prof saying is “I learn more from them than they do from me.” 🙄

If that’s the case then you’re a horrible professor.

This is the view that has led campus leaders to let students run amok with no repercussions. The rest of society is seeing the rot now.

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I could see the related point that people learn more from teaching others, and in that sense learn from the experience. That's not the same thing as learning from the students.

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Decreasing reverence for elders seems proportional to dichotomous thinking. With a black and white, all good or all bad world view, the youth must exile the elder who has misstepped in some way. The illusion of purity pursued by many in younger generations is stalled by association with the tainted. Unfortunately, as Rob has mentioned before, many elders have embraced this call for self-chastisement. When a childs parent, or teacher, or community leader moves from acknowleding the childs persepctive and desires to handing over the reins, a decrease in respect seems inevitable. Categorically writing off an individual for one mistake/viewpoint or an entire generation, makes the job of evaluating the world and ones role in it simpler, but likely less informed, less reliable, and less nuanced. (I'm in my 30's)

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Nov 26, 2023Liked by Rob Henderson

I just turned 40 this year. At 30 I thought that I was plenty mature for my age (married, house, 3 kids, same career for 8 years) and was steadily plodding along, brick by brick, to build a life I’d be proud of in 50 years.

Fast forward to today, the wisdom I’ve picked up in the last 10 years is in many magnitude to the prior 20. They’ve been some hard lessons along the way, but my decision making and ability to understand people has clearly increased.

I can only hope the next 10 follow has the last 10 have gone.

Our younger people should definitely take heed, yet, as people age to be more wise and discerning, they should be winsome in approach and countenance- so as someone would actually want to hear what you have to say! It does go both ways.

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Nov 27, 2023Liked by Rob Henderson

AHMEN! I cringe when i think back to my late teens/early 20’s. Same but entirely different at the same time.

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Good talk focused on psych research reasons for respect, tho I would have liked a few more examples of wisdom or not.

One of the least wise things, ways of living life and thinking, is to “follow your dreams”. It can be wise to do so when used as a goal to strive for, with proper respect for reality & life’s inevitable trade offs, but it is often simplistically used as a reason to “do whatever you feel like”.

A huge recent reason for reduced respect of elders is the frequent lack of knowledge about the current tech, which most young quickly learn and frequently are asked by elders to explain. Like Facebook 15 years ago (now uncool since so many elders use it), and smart phones, new apps, new computer operating systems, new smart TVs, new substack (wait, young impatient kids don’t use substack—I’m just joking). Hard to respect as wise those who are clearly ignorant about important new tech used in their own lives.

Two Triads, Dark & Light, are referenced well. But the Big 5 only explicitly includes Narcissism, not any of the other 5 Triad traits. Using MBTI 4 main temperaments plus the Triads is likely to help explain how normal folk act most of the time better than Big 5.

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You've made a strong argument, Rob, but it needs to address what may be called the "black swan" problem -- a problem which has no precedent and which exposes weaknesses in a culture's underpinnings. Europe faced such a problem in August 1914, and the decisions made by the elders of that time led to a catastrophe of immense proportions. Perhaps youth can be an advantage in those circumstances.

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Speaking as an elder--well said and well done! Out of sheer curiosity, how did the ballot turn out?

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Sadly we lost. The demographics of the voters may have had something to do with it (average age was probably around 21).

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As a supposedly old person at 68 I would have to agree. If a person is growing and maturing as they age (and I imagine most people are) obviously their outlook is going to be wiser as the decades go by.

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Youth really is wasted on the young. I'd like to think if we all had better mentors wisdom could be passed down more efficiently, but experience tells me there's a lot of stuff we all just have to learn the hard way.

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Modern media have made a fortune creating a ‘youth culture’ to feed America’s long Rumspringa life stage...spending 10-20 post puberty years in limbo saturated by youth culture makes our elders socially invisible...we would have to re-integrate them to build up this respect...

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Agreed. Great talk! I’m sure the young people enjoyed it.

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The downward spiral of disrespect for elders is one of the things I, as a millennial, fear the most when thinking about my future. The demographic decline in developed countries will result in spending more and more public funds to support the elders, which will result in growing resentment towards them. This may result in levels of ageism corresponding to 20th century racism: older people openly being made fun of in mainstream comedy, harassed and even beat up on the street. And the elders probably won't have enough financial and cultural resources to spin up a cultural movement equivalent to modern day wokeness to counter that.

I believe the mainstream discourse is most focused on generational brackets (boomers/gen X/millennials etc) rather than old vs young. This makes me wonder whether the traits of old/young people discussed here are actually typical for generational brackets. I imagine that present day old, peaceful boomers were pacifist hippies in the 1970s.

Is it possible that in 30 years millennials and zoomers will become violent and distrustful old people, while new generations of young people yet to come will turn out more peaceful and agreeable, as the cultural pendulum swings the other way?

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By far the clearest discussion of the relationship between age and wisdom I've read!

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Dec 11, 2023·edited Dec 11, 2023

This is too simplistic IMO. People differ in IQ, interests and conscientiousness. So age isn't a particularly good metric. And differences in tech available over time *does* make a huge difference.


> if you’re learning anything from this essay, it is not from the same input data that shaped my own understanding. You are learning from my human-scale digested understanding and writing ability, with all my personal limits. And I have no easy way to just let you pool my input data into yours. You can’t think with two-human-lives worth of data. You can only compose your digested conclusions with mine.

> Partly as a result of this constraint, older is not necessarily wiser. Slower, more experienced brains don’t necessarily outperform sharper, younger brains. In fact, most traditional fields of human striving feature a pattern of “the student becomes the master.” If you’re younger and sharper than me, you might be able to poke holes in this essay and teach me a thing or two even if you’re much newer to the topic of AI


> I now think in much simpler ways than 20 years ago, but with the benefit of 20 years of personally digested experience. But this isn’t Software 2.0. I’m not thinking better with “simpler algorithms and more data.”

> I’m just significantly older, but not particularly wiser, and making the best of it.

> In the case of humans, "data aging" of this sort is a highly suspect. You're far more likely to fall into repetitive patterns of life where instead of 20 years worth of data, you really have 20x reinforcement of 1 year's worth of data, due to the necessarily conservative life choices we fragile meat-bags tend to make.

> Biological humans are simply bad at being exploratory enough to log a year's worth of data for a year's worth of life lived. So we end up as bundles of conservative biases as we age, and grow set in our ways. We grow older, but rarely wiser, even if we are sometimes able to dazzle younger humans with charismatic words and long beards.

> This is a good survival strategy but not a wisdom-maximizing one. Those who live experientially rich, gonzo lives tend to die young and wise (even if suicidally depressed about it). Those who hang back a bit survive longer even if they have less fun and die dumber.


> When you feed human-life-generated not-so-big data into an AI, it's not actually that much in informational terms. Properly digested in terms of actual information content and decision-making intelligence, with adequate discounting for repetition and imitation, all of human history is not billions or trillions of human-years worth of data. It’s probably more like tens of thousands of human-years.

> The average human in history has probably contributed no more than a few minutes worth of data to the shared human historical data set. In one sense, the average human dies at a data age of perhaps 5 minutes, in terms of novel data contributed to the human experiential pool. In terms of new-to-you experience, perhaps 100 years of chronological aging is worth perhaps 20 years of data aging.

> But now, with the right kind of computational augmentation, you can properly data-age. Even if you are only growing 1 year for every 5 lived in biological terms, your computationally extended centaur body might more than make up for that, injecting 100 years worth of experience into every year of your life lived.

> You’d be data-aging at the rate of 100.2 years per year of biological life.

> This is already happening to all of us to a remarkable degree. You don't need access to complex modern deep learning technology to see that. You don’t need to be a latent centaur chess player like Magnus Carlsen, or a latent centaur writer like William Gibson.

> Those of us who have been using Google search for 22 years are already like 100 years older than our biological age. **Every year lived with Google at your fingertips is like 5 lived within the limits of paper books. In many ways, I feel older than my father, who is 83. I know the world in much richer, machine-augmented ways than he does, even though I don’t yet have a prosthetic device attached to my skull. I am not smarter than him. I’ve just data-aged more than him.**

> Ideas like “building a second brain” leverage this basic new potentiality in the human condition; our newfound ability to age faster than we can live, by using machines to do much of the superhistorical living for us.

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@ Lucy - I also cringe for related reasons. It is not just "wisdom" which might be mere self-congratulation (or circumspection from diminished energy), but that I did engage in more Dark Triad behaviors then.

@ Daniel - there are indeed very unwise decisions made by groups of elders, perhaps because of the inertia of previous choices. Yet I don't know that groups of the young or middle-aged are better. The powerful are often insensitive to the good of those whose lives they control. It might be that phenomenon more than age.

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