What's the best age for a scientist?

  • Thread starter ryokan
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  • #1
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It is currently admitted that the best findings in Physics are produced by young scientists, being the Einstein's annus mirabilis a good example.

But is it generally true?

Is there a best age to make a creative research? If so, Why? What factors are determinant to peak the most relevant activity of a scientist into a narrow range of ages?

Of course, is a general question. All we know cases of scientists with a rich production along all their lifetime.
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
Sho'Nuff
The only thing I can imagine is that young people are not conditioned yet by their self created world of logic. You could perhaps see experience as the restraint for creativity.
Those who act on experience (the wise and elderly) are also bound to stay whithin the boundries of their lifetime package of knowledge. When you think you have all answers you are less likely to search for better ones. Also after a life of thinking A..., B can be a scary thing.
 
  • #3
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Sho'Nuff said:
The only thing I can imagine is that young people are not conditioned yet by their self created world of logic. You could perhaps see experience as the restraint for creativity.
Those who act on experience (the wise and elderly) are also bound to stay whithin the boundries of their lifetime package of knowledge. When you think you have all answers you are less likely to search for better ones. Also after a life of thinking A..., B can be a scary thing.
But.. why experience would restrain creativity?
 
  • #4
Sho'Nuff
IF you need to solve a problem, and you know a solution from experience, then you are unlikely to search for a new and perhaps better solution, while when you're young you are less likely to know a solution from experience and you rely on vreativity to find one. Try explaining to your grandfather that he should use E-mail in stead of sending paper letters by the mail. His solution (a letter) works fine for him and he will probably be reluctand to change to E-mail even though you tell him its faster and all. Now bearing that in mind what are the chances of such a man actually inventing E-mail.
His experience (a paper letter works fine) prevents him from being creative (inventing E-mail).
 
  • #5
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I see no evidence that the best findings in physics are produced by young people. Can someone try to back that up with some kind of factual basis?
 
  • #6
Gza
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To be a good physicist, one must be a good mathematician as well. And we all know what G.H. Hardy famously said about mathematicians:


The British number theorist G.H. Hardy, in A Mathematician's Apology, one of the most widely read books about the nature and practice of mathematics, famously wrote: "No mathematician should ever allow himself to forget that mathematics, more than any other art or science, is a young man's game."

I'm not trying to prove anything either way, I just agree with the quote. Look at the biography of almost any mathematician and you'll see that a large part of their productivity is within their 20's and 30's.
 
  • #7
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Locrian said:
I see no evidence that the best findings in physics are produced by young people. Can someone try to back that up with some kind of factual basis?
Yes. It is only a general, subjective, impression. I was astonished by the Einstein's annus mirabilis and the productivity of other more recent scientists as Guth.
But, It is possible that I be wrong. Furthermore, it would be convenient stablish age ranges to any discussion on this topic. What's about the following:
minus than 30, 30 - 50, and more than 50 years old people?
 
  • #8
39
1
It is currently admitted that the best findings in Physics are produced by young scientists, being the Einstein's annus mirabilis a good example.

But is it generally true?

This may be attributed to spurts of dendrite growth in the brain as a person ages. The first dendrite growths occur at a very young age and mainly account for the development of language skills. Other dendrite growths occur during elementary and high school and are marked by quick, rapid mental development. These spurts are biological in nature, and if a scientist has one at the right time early in his or her career, it may lead to new insights or perspectives that will seem revolutionary. Now, as a person gets older, there are fewer and fewer dendrite spurts. This is not to say that a creative burst can only be caused by dendrite spurts, but the spurts definitely enhance the creativity and thereby gives younger scientists a slight biological advantage.
 
  • #9
253
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Artorius said:
This may be attributed to spurts of dendrite growth in the brain as a person ages. The first dendrite growths occur at a very young age and mainly account for the development of language skills. Other dendrite growths occur during elementary and high school and are marked by quick, rapid mental development. These spurts are biological in nature, and if a scientist has one at the right time early in his or her career, it may lead to new insights or perspectives that will seem revolutionary. Now, as a person gets older, there are fewer and fewer dendrite spurts. This is not to say that a creative burst can only be caused by dendrite spurts, but the spurts definitely enhance the creativity and thereby gives younger scientists a slight biological advantage.

What is the basis for this assert?
 
  • #10
39
1
What is the basis for this assert?

The basis is in biology. I picked up the notion of dendrite spurts from an education course dealing with how the brain works and develops over time. Here are some links for more information:

http://www.nbia.nf.ca/the_neuron.htm [Broken]
http://pweb.jps.net/~cryocoo/periastron/mar2000/trulyltmem.htm [Broken]
http://www.ipce.info/library_3/files/glaser/glaser_2.htm
http://www.ssc.uwo.ca/psychology/undergraduate/psych240b-2/lectureslides/1 [Broken]

Someone in the biology field may be able address the topic better in the biology section of the board.
 
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  • #11
253
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Artorius said:
The basis is in biology. I picked up the notion of dendrite spurts from an education course dealing with how the brain works and develops over time. Here are some links for more information:

http://www.nbia.nf.ca/the_neuron.htm [Broken]
http://pweb.jps.net/~cryocoo/periastron/mar2000/trulyltmem.htm [Broken]
http://www.ipce.info/library_3/files/glaser/glaser_2.htm
http://www.ssc.uwo.ca/psychology/undergraduate/psych240b-2/lectureslides/1 [Broken]

Someone in the biology field may be able address the topic better in the biology section of the board.
Your links are related to some basic aspects of neurobiology. But there isn't enough knowledge to establish a clear answer to my question in neurobiological terms.
Of course, it is clear that there are maturation periods and there is a growing knowledge about the mechanisms of memory (mainly in experimental, non-human, models), but we don't know the areas neither the mechanisms related to "creativity" or "intelligence" in wide sense.
 
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  • #12
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Gza said:
I just agree with the quote. Look at the biography of almost any mathematician and you'll see that a large part of their productivity is within their 20's and 30's.

But...Is this because they keep coming up with new material, or because the university forces them to put out a certain number of articles each year? :smile:


-Ruler of the Universe,
Smurf
 
  • #13
909
2
It's a valid point I think, to relate such thinking to mathematical developement?

But I would argue, that if the brain was damaged by stroke and pathways are not established again, then you would remain with the infirmaties. Mental imaging re-establishes the pathways, hence reconnecting pre established mathematical functions, as you would in, moving your arm again.

So logical deductive reasoning would foundationally remain in creativity, in mathematics, as cognitive functions, and developing ones? If you loose this character feature, how do you restablish?

I do not believe "age" debilitates the actions of creativity, or the ability to cognitively recognize limits in those mathematics. That's purely a philosophical position, and out of it, this new math?
 
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  • #14
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Smurf said:
But...Is this because they keep coming up with new material, or because the university forces them to put out a certain number of articles each year? :smile:

The pressure to publish is similar among different disciplines.
 
  • #15
137
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hello everyone, ARTORIUS have said something interesting..
about the dendrite spurts..
i'm not a peacokish.. but i have langage skills... well i speak four langages and i'm learning the fifth and i am only 17..
and my teachers always tell me that i have an ability of quick analysis..
i admit i hate memorizing (especialy social sciences)..
is it a sign of anything special?
(i'm into astronomy, and next year i'm going to start university "astrophysics")..
my IQ last time was 139
i hope someone can interpret
thanks a lot :)
 
  • #16
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A_I_ said:
hello everyone, ARTORIUS have said something interesting..
about the dendrite spurts..
i'm not a peacokish.. but i have langage skills... well i speak four langages and i'm learning the fifth and i am only 17..
and my teachers always tell me that i have an ability of quick analysis..
i admit i hate memorizing (especialy social sciences)..
is it a sign of anything special?
(i'm into astronomy, and next year i'm going to start university "astrophysics")..
my IQ last time was 139
i hope someone can interpret
thanks a lot :)
I think that it would be interesting for you the Champollion's biography.
 
  • #17
137
0
mmm..
sorpresa para ti espaXol.. (ryokan)
como evidencia sobre lo que digo..
yo hablo espaXol..
no es ordinario? :)
 
  • #18
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A_I_ said:
mmm..
sorpresa para ti espaXol.. (ryokan)
como evidencia sobre lo que digo..
yo hablo espaXol..
no es ordinario? :)
Y yo francés, inglés, alemán, italiano y algo de ruso.
Eres muy joven. Te faltan muchos años para comprender que cuanto más aprendas menos sabrás.
 
  • #19
137
0
porque dices eso?
 
  • #20
253
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A_I_ said:
porque dices eso?
Porque creo que has hecho una cierta ostentación de inteligencia en tus "posts".
Es estupendo ser inteligente como tú pareces ser. Pero no basta. No basta con acumular conocimientos ni es necesario demostrar capacidad intelectual. Eso es lo menos importante.
Un afectuoso saludo.

:smile:
 
  • #21
137
0
mm.. dime lo que es importante..
y voy a decirte si lo tengo
gracias
 
  • #22
hypnagogue
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Science Advisor
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Guys, if you're going to be conducting a discussion in a foreign language, please take it to PM. Thanks.
 
  • #23
253
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hypnagogue said:
Guys, if you're going to be conducting a discussion in a foreign language, please take it to PM. Thanks.
Yes. I apologize for these few posts with A.I. due to an A.I.'s demonstration of his knowledge of the spanish language. Effectively, these spanish posts aren't relevant to the thread.
 
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  • #24
Moonbear
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ryokan said:
Yes. It is only a general, subjective, impression. I was astonished by the Einstein's annus mirabilis and the productivity of other more recent scientists as Guth.
But, It is possible that I be wrong. Furthermore, it would be convenient stablish age ranges to any discussion on this topic. What's about the following:
minus than 30, 30 - 50, and more than 50 years old people?

Hmm, how about pre-tenure and post-tenure? There is incredible pressure before obtaining tenure to publish a lot and break into your own new area of work. Once you've gotten good enough at it to earn tenure, it doesn't seem so new anymore. It's probably also a healthy dose of reality...no matter what the idealistic young may want to believe, funding only goes to relatively low risk work (i.e., high chance of success). So, while you're young and idealistic, it's easy to be creative. Later, you realize that if you want to get any funding for your work, you better focus on some easy stuff and leave the risky stuff as side projects. There are also more distractions as you get older, such as administrative responsibilities, committees, editorial positions, etc. Enjoy grad school and post-docs, it's the last time in your scientific career when you will get to really focus on nothing but your research. But that doesn't mean there aren't incredibly creative people who are older.
 
  • #25
selfAdjoint
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Another well known effect is the Nobel disaster. It is pretty much true that no physicists has done first class work after receiving the Nobel prize. Bardeen is sort of an exception, but he always won with co-workers.
 

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