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January 05, 2018

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Wow. Much respect for sharing this. Intellectual culture (as I perceive it) is so macho/status based: insults are common, and most insults are about intellectual ability ("try better reading comprehension" is one of the milder forms of this). So...if it was courageous to write this, Sebastian, I want to honor that courage.


As for my personal fears? Hmmm, I think I do "general anxiety" pretty good, but most of these triggers boil down to some form of "I'm not good enough".

I guess a more acute one used to be fear of insanity. A close college friend had a psychotic break back in our early 20s and it freaked me out for awhile: I'd have (mild, I guess) panic attacks about going crazy.

Yes Sebastian, a brave post. I have very similar fears actually. It probably doesn't show any more, but once upon a time I was considered to have an unusually high IQ, and no problem at all, to put it mildly, with abstract and analytical thinking. This has changed completely, and my vocabulary has definitely suffered, as has my memory (although the latter is not yet dramatic). I do worry about this, when more immediate worries are not intruding.

What b9n's first paragraph said.

I'm sure this is close to home for many of us. My own father is on a long and messy slope downwards too, extended by his physical robustness...

Personal fears ? My kid's futures; not because of any lack of capacity on their part, but simple parental anxiety on mine.

People who have seen the devastation that dementia causes, especially those whose parents have been afflicted, are especially worried about this (me included). A couple I had dinner with recently reported that a close friend of theirs had been diagnosed with early Altzheimers - this is a person not much older than me. It's terrifying. But as GftNC states, more immediate worries also loom large.

When I was a kid I read Flowers for Algernon. Ever since, the thought of waking up one day and not being smart, but remembering being smart, has been a panic-inducing personal fear. Years ago my wife wanted to go see Regarding Henry and I refused -- the reviews made it seem too close.

It's a courageous post, Sebastian. If I were experiencing what you describe, I'd never be able to write about it.

I hope you are wrong too.
My mother had dementia. I worry about that. I can;t remember names any more. It's a hassle! It also worries me for many of the same reasons,,who will care for me if I survive my husband. I am sixty four and dont expect to live much more than another ten years or so. Well the way things are going I dont really want to live much longer than that but I dont want to die alone in a nursing home. I am preparing myself for suicide.

I also worry about macular degeneration since my father my aunt and my sister all got it.

Hi wonkie,

I hear you. May you be well.

My greatest fear is to die penniless and alone. Unfortunately it is a likely outcome.

I was considered to have an IQ of 158 in my 20's, I scored the highest score ever on the State of Texas GED and one of the top scores ever on the military entrance exams. In my early 30's I was always considered the smartest guy in any room. My greatest fear then was to be found out and exposed as a fake, I was never as smart as I was given credit for. I have long quit worrying about that, and my ability to solve problems has been replaced by the knowledge of having seen most of them solved in the past.

My greatest problem is summoning the concentration to write more than a few paragraphs. Often in these threads I simply fail to complete a point because I have said all I think I need to, only to have hsh,not complaining, point out the thought is incomplete. Sometimes I type long comments and delete them because the start and finish don't talk about the same thing.

I continue to comment here, and started commenting here, because I felt it helped me think and express myself more clearly in other areas of my life.

I do have moments where I can filly develop a thought and stay with it to fully articulate it. Most of the time I try to get to the point in as few words as possible.

It would be impossible for me to adequately express my disappointment in having offended Janie and russell in a way that simply can't be taken back.Or the regret that I can't communicate how deeply I empathize with, and mostly share, each person's fear of Trump and the far right while also standing by those things I believe.

For my increasingly limited ability to focus, I still need the mental and emotional challenges that engaging here provide.

And, again, I'm not sure if the ending matches the beginning nut I am not going to delete this one. Here it is.

Oh I've been burned by that one before, Marty. Thinking that my own righteousness was an excuse to be unkind.

Silver lining? The remorse you describe means you passed the "am I a decent human being?" test, I think.

each person's fear of Trump & the far right

Well, here in "The Good Place" (referencing the tv show) where so-called PROSPERITY & FREEDOM reign, there's so much anxiety/depression that goes unseen & stays unconscious. I see the alt-right (& political anger generally) as a manifestation of unexpressed & unconscious suffering...undigested pain.


As a polity, focusing on "jobs", "growth", "freedom", or "security" is missing what's real, and there will always be the seeds of demonic forces ready to germinate amidst the Ignornance.

I don't fear Trump. I fear staying in a complacent comfortable consumerist haze. I fear complicity in a society that Trumps.

Marty,

"I continue to comment here, and started commenting here, because I felt it helped me think and express myself more clearly in other areas of my life."

Your politics are loathsome, but you seem admirable in those "other areas". So don't go away.

Thanks.

A courageous post, Sebastian. Have you talked to your doctor about this?

I have some of the same issues - a dulling of my mental edge, a lowered ability to dive deep into thoughts and see where they lead.

But I'm not sure it's any kind of dementia. I think it may be related to spending a lot of time on-line. Things on-line are fast and shallow, and the more time one spends in that environment, the more it rubs off.

My solution has been to return to my first love, reading, which I had been neglecting. I make it a point to put the computer aside and read for an hour or so before bed on weeknights, and try for an uninterrupted day of reading on the weekend. It does make a difference in one's ability to think more substantively and more deeply.

Sebastian -- thanks for this post. I can only echo other people who have said it took courage.

I have similar fears , but it's late, so just a couple of quick comments for now.

Seb -- you just wrote an eloquent, coherent, and concise post about a topic that could consume volumes. So you haven't entirely lost your edge.

Marty -- not for the first time -- thanks. More tomorrow.

CaseyL -- you took the words out of my ... fingers? ... concerning the internet. I think the internet is addling all of us who spend a lot of time on it. Or at least, I think it's addling me. Age is no doubt helping (I'm almost 68). But I've been experimenting with very little internet some days, and those are very different days from the ones where I ramble around online a lot.

More tomorrow, hopefully.

My two scattered cents. My dad had alzheimer's but it seems that it was induced thru his college boxing career, his siblings didn't have a problem. However, I tend to think this is part of the natural aging process.

I also had a detached retina in my dominant eye and where I used to be able to identify my students before they saw me and then pull up their name by the time I had to greet them, I know recognize them too late to get their names. This spirals because I don't get to use their names, so I get worse at remembering their names.

On the physical front, there are tons of things I used to be able to do that I might be able to again, but there is a non minimal chance that I could instead do a face plant.

So all this sucks, but my perspective on it is one I've picked up from aikido, which is if you try to hold on to something, that's where you make your mistake. If you define yourself by one of your abilities, be it making a jump shot or being able to knock out a 3 page essay in an evening that doesn't need proofing, you are asking for trouble, cause at some point, you aren't going to be able to do that.

One of the things that impressed me about Obama was that midway thru his presidency, he stopped playing pick up basketball. When asked, he said that he had seen too many folks his age blow out a knee or a tendon, so he switched to golf.

I think the same thing holds true for mental ability. I get super frustrated when for example I'm reading Japanese and I come to a character I know I know, but can't remember it. That's the most salient example, but it is clear I've lost a step. So rather than try and keep that ability, I change my set up so I've got easier access to kanji dictionaries. I've also given up on some things, like Japanese handwriting. I've done so little handwriting that when I was asked by a student who was checking foreigner pronunciation and listening ability and had a section where I was supposed to write relatively simple words as answers, I was totally flummoxed because I no longer write Japanese except for my name and address. There's a flash of anger and embarrassment, but looking at it pragmatically, the amount of time I would have to spend to get my writing ability back up to speed would prevent me from doing other stuff I want to do, just to keep an ability that really isn't so important or at least can be covered by other abilities.

That's why, as I've gotten older, I'm more impressed by people who change their minds or willingly step back from things, especially when they get older. Sadly, I'm not in a great country for that, but it makes it all the more refreshing when I see it.

Marty, your comment illustrates, once again (and clearly not just to me), why your presence is important here.

my current acute fears are heart related and CNS related. i have high blood pressure, even though i exercise quite a lot and don't eat all that terribly. i've started medication but i don't know if it's working. the other is that i have some symptoms which suggest eventual Parkinsons. the medicine they gave me for that is a severely addictive relative of valium, so i won't even touch it.

these are the things that keep me up at night.

at one time, i too was the smartest kid in the room. highest SATs in the county! once i left my little 5000 person town i realized just how small all the previous rooms were. now i feel like i'm almost faking it at work because i'm surrounded by truly brilliant people who clearly think about things on levels far beyond mine. plus, i'm at a point where i really do not care about the work (and my company cultures that by putting so much bureaucracy around me that i feel that the actual work is secondary to the Process). and i'm expected to do this for another 20 years?

i've been meaning to start being less of an asshole here to those i disagree with, so i might as well start now.

well put, Seb and Marty. i've never considered either of you to be anything but very intelligent (though somehow wrong at the same time! :) ).

i've never considered either of you to be anything but very intelligent (though somehow wrong at the same time! :) ).

Echo. Much easier for me to use other people's words!

My kid's futures; not because of any lack of capacity on their part, but simple parental anxiety on mine.

Ditto. Add to that hypochondria for my wife. I’m regularly worried about heart disease or cancer for her (which, of course, figures into both my and my kids’ futures). There’s no paricularly compelling basis for it, so don’t bother asking why.

Often in these threads I simply fail to complete a point because I have said all I think I need to, only to have hsh,not complaining, point out the thought is incomplete.

I think you’re failing to consider something here, Marty.

My wife died of cancer in her late forties; there's not much to be scared of now, so long as fortune smiles on our children.

My mother, in her mid eighties, is severely demented. It's a horrible thing to see, but I don't care very much whether my brain dies slowly or quickly - I just want it not to happen for a long time.

Marty's remarks about being (or having been) very bright, and now worrying about money, seem strange to me. Isn't the USA the Land of Opportunity, where smart Republicans get rich?

*Sigh* probably so, hsh

And thanks for all kind words.

cleek, I used to worry terribly about heart disease. Taking blood-pressure medication reduced that significantly for me. That and regular, vigorous exercise without symptoms. Whenever I lapse from exercising for more than a few days, when life gets in the way, it starts to creep back. The first good workout pretty much obliterates it.

Checking my 1-minute heart-rate reduction immediately upon ceasing exercise helps a lot, too. A good heart-rate reduction is actually highly correlated inversely with nearer-term mortality by any cause, not just heart disease. Read up on it if you don’t already know about it. You might be able to save yourself a lot of unnecessary worry.

You might want to try out Saffron Tea, also helps against mild to moderate depression.

I'm not making this up:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20831681

and yeah, browsing the interwebs is like crack.

I can regain focus reading fiction, it's a challenge at times (I have a toddler...) but worthwhile - speedy 30-60m min walks also help me (running I find too intense these days).

I think that would qualify as not smart, but genius....and a very stable genius at that!

When my dad was in his early sixties he started to have various odd difficulties, both mental and physical. Fairly soon he was diagnosed as "likely" to be having early signs of Alzheimer's. He had a long, slow, difficult decline, and eventually my mom put him in a nursing home because she couldn't handle his care anymore.

He lived another three years or so after that. Partway through that stretch he lost his ability to swallow, so they put a feeding tube in.

He lived another year or two, fed through a tube, eventually having to be strapped in a chair in order to be out of bed at all. He couldn't speak, it was doubtful that he could understand anything anyone said, and it was unclear whether he recognized any of us.

I lived far away, so I didn't see him as much as my mom and a couple of my siblings; I suppose that made his decline between my visits all the more apparent. I saw it in discrete jumps whereas they experienced it as very gradual.

When he died, the autopsy turned up no signs of Alzheimer's in his brain at all. He had had a number of strokes, and late onset multiple sclerosis with dementia.

I can't tell you what a shock it was to have to reframe the previous eleven years under a different label, even though a correct diagnosis wouldn't have made much, if any, difference to his care or the progress of his illness.

A few years ago I finally got myself to a lawyer who specializes in elder law and drew up documents to try to ensure that if I can't speak, or understand, or sit up, or eat real food, or recognize my loved ones, and my body is ready to go -- I am to be allowed to go.

Big topic, all aside from fears about the path to getting to that point.

cleek's 8:45 on 1/5 has echoes for me, too.

(Speaking of being the smartest kid in the room, I saw a headline this morning saying that President Clickbait has assured us that he is very stable and a genius. That settles it.)

When my dad died, I stood in the greeting line at calling hours, seeing all kinds of people from my home town whom I hadn't seen in twenty-five years, because after I left home for college I never went back except for brief vacations. I had some funny exchanges, typified by these memorable ones:

Little old Italian lady (probably some distant relative): "Oh, you were the smart one."

Me: "Well, I used to be."

My reply had a double meaning. Long before my early forties, I knew I wasn't as smart as I thought I'd been in high school, plus like Sebastian, I already felt that I was losing a bit of my edge.

But the other meaning was that "I used to be" in this little pigeonhole where I was pegged as "the smart one," and that was to be my role in that world for as long as I stayed there. One big reason I had to get out.....

The other exchange that stuck with me was:

Little old Italian lady (probably a distant relative): "Oh, are you a superintendent yet?"

Because if you get straight A's, what other pathway could there be in life but to become a teacher, then a principal, then a superintendent of schools?

;-)

I think that like other people who have mentioned this in this thread, I was in fact very "smart." But no one tells you how limited an asset that is when you're a little math nerd hoping to be the first person in your family to go to college, and everyone around you is hoping that too.

I've done fine in life, but it took me a long time to realize that "the games mother never taught you" [very literally true in my case; my parents never understood that those games even existed] are probably far more important than getting great test scores for certain kinds of success in life.

"But no one tells you how limited an asset that is when you're a little math nerd hoping to be the first person in your family to go to college, and everyone around you is hoping that too."

This. Plus the fear of disappointing them.

just how small all the previous rooms were. now i feel like i'm almost faking it at work because i'm surrounded by truly brilliant people

I also.

"Smartest kid in your high school" syndrome is pretty common. There are lots of high schools, after all. The problem is adjusting when you start meeting the kids from other schools.

My fears are similar to cleek's. Both parents died of sudden heart attacks, my father at 58, my mother at 76. I myself needed an angioplasty at age 47. It's held up for 24 years and counting so I guess they did a good job, but still.

Also the fear of being somehow exposed as a faker, even though I have had, in many respects, a successful life. There was a lot of luck there, and that influences my views of how things really work, and merit, and so on.

I would note that forgetfulness doesn't have to be Alzheimer's disease. The group of Eric Kandel (nobel prize winner for elucidating mechanisms of signal transduction in the nervous system) published a paper in 2013 showing that forgetfulness in old age can have other causes. They looked for changes in gene expression in postmortem brain tissue from young vs. old humans. Among genes with lower expression in the old, one called RbAp48 was studied further. Using genetic tricks, they could show that higher expression "rescued" age-related memory loss in mice, whereas suppressing expression made young mice have memory problems as seen in aged mice. If you want to read the original paper see https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4940031/ .

As the authors say in the discussion, "This investigation provides more direct and causal evidence for a fundamental difference between age-related memory loss and AD." I (age 73) take some comfort from this.

Me too, Ned. Thanks.

I worry about not knowing when to leave. I have an exit strategy, and I'm sure it will work, but now that I'm actually old (make that "very old") I begin to be afraid that by the time I reach that point, I won't be able to do anything about it. In the meanwhile, I have lived a lot longer than I expected, and I don't feel terribly "old" even now, and I have had some close calls wherein it was demonstrated to me that I might be at the point where I should let go, but my body will not *let* me. I will literally *crawl* to where I can get help, even it, because of blood loss, I can make only one "step" every five or so minutes.

So now I worry, but I'm not sure what to worry *about*, that I can even *do* anything about.

So now I worry, but I'm not sure what to worry *about*, that I can even *do* anything about.

Maybe the way out is to quit worrying. We're a society. We need to deal with each other, young and old. We may fail, but you shouldn't take on the burden and guilt of sparing others the responsibility for it. It's part of our collective purpose.

The smartness thing is kind of weird. When I was little I read a lot, weird stuff (for a kid) like encyclopedias. I knew a lot of oddball things, and I thought they were interesting. School wasn't really hard, but my grades were OK but nothing special, mostly because I don't think I was really that into it.

When I was in high school, I got pretty good SAT scores, which surprised a lot of people, including me. I just liked taking the test, it was kind of a really fun game.

When I was younger, I think the value I got out of "being smart" was not having to work very hard to get a good-enough outcome. That was unfortunate, because it wasn't until significantly later on in life that I figured out that I really liked working hard, and that it was a good thing to work hard.

Lots of life lessons, learned out of order. Better late than never, as they say.

As far as losing your mental edge, I can see it every day. Mostly I just don't think as quickly as I used to, and my memory for names and details is worse. I remember *things* but not what they are called.

I just try to adjust my approach to things to fit how I think now. One thing at a time, and I take my time. It mostly works.

As far as fears, sometime in my 20's I developed agoraphobia, which really really sucked. At the worst, it was kind of a "don't want to leave the house" thing. Mostly it was a matter of finding strange ways to get around that didn't involve bridges, boats, or planes. And avoiding any kind of situation where I didn't have control over whether and when I could exit.

It was a really crappy way to live.

It's a funny phenomenon, because your brain and nervous system is so plugged in to the "on alert" mode that even when nothing's wrong, your brain can't believe it, so it makes up stuff. Walking near the ocean and mentally calculating if I could outrun a tidal wave, should that be necessary. If I was suddenly struck blind while driving across this small highway bridge, would I be able to pull over and stop the car without getting killed. Stuff like that just ticking away in the back of my mind all the time, like some annoying weird melodramatic kibitzer. It was actually kind of hilarious, at times, what my brain would come up with.

When my sister was about 60, she started having the same crap. All at once. Which is really late onset for that. I think we had a, not terrible, but very chaotic and stressful coming up, and we just carried that crap around with us until there was enough breathing room in our lives for it to emerge and bite us on the ass. For me, that was my mid-20's, for her it was her late 50's. Mostly I think we both just have the same twitchy nervous system. It runs in my family.

Her doc got her on Zoloft, problem solved. Since it worked for her, I figured I'd give it a shot. It worked for me, then and ever since.

No more involuntary tidal wave fantasies. Better living through chemistry.

As far as fear of death, when I turned 60 for some reason I just (mostly) stopped worrying about it. I kind of feel like I've ended up in a pretty good place, and it's way too late to worry about "dying young". I've done a lot of the stuff I would have liked to do. Not all, but a lot. I won't say I don't care if I peg out at this point, I'd like another 25 or 30 years if I can get it, but I don't seem to worry about it all that much.

At some point, it occurred to me that the first half of life was all about building and acquiring. And the second half was all about letting go of it all. So I try to do that.

Mostly I try not to be a jerk. I'm prone to being very judgemental, and reacting to things with anger, and getting all attached to my own righteous outrage. What a waste of time.

It's a funny life, and we all take our own funny paths through it.

I like hanging at ObWi. Everybody here is extremely interesting and thoughtful, and I think we mostly try not to abuse each other. Participating here helps me figure out what I think about things. I'm grateful for it.

Marty, really, no worries. If you want to chat about it, ping the kitty and it will reach me.

Thanks for this thread Sebastian.

The intelligence discussion always suffers from a couple problems. First, nobody has a really good handle on exactly what we mean my "intelligence." Yeah, we all have a gut feel for whether someone is intelligent . . . but what is it really? Ability to do complex math? Big vocabulary? Ability to solve complex puzzles? What?

Second, partly due to the first, the discussion tends to fall back to IQ. But IQ is a very seriously flawed measure.

When I was in grammar school, I sometimes got referred to as "the kid who uses the big words." Did that mean I was especically intelligent? Or just that I had well educated parents who had never heard of the concept of baby talk -- they talked to us kids the same way that they talked to each other, and I (all of us actually) talked the way we heard at home.

On top of which, the family games of choice growing up were Mah Jong and Scrabble. The latter contributing to large vocabulary as well. And IQ tests, at least for kids, are actually mostly about vocabulary.

According to the theory that IQ tests are based on, IQ is immutable -- absent trauma of some kind. Take several tests, and the scores will be a random scatter very closely clustered (like give or take 2-3 points) around your "real" IQ. (That's measurement error and statistics.) But as a result of how I was being raised, I ended up with IQ test scores, on the dozen tests our school district was moved to give all of us over the years, which spread across forty (40!) points, not just a handful. Worse, they were monotonic increasing. Which, per theory, is impossible.

At least I was spared getting my self-image tied to my intelligence. It was all about what you did with what you have. As a result, I avoided the kind of resentment that some of the other smart kids at school got. Quote from my high school counselor: "Joe [not anyone here!] always thinks he is the smartest kid in the room, and demands that everybody acknowledge that. Bill probably is the smartest kid in the room . . . and just doesn't give a damn." Made it a lot easier to get along with those around me.

Maybe we could come up with an actual measurable definition of intelligence? Why not, we here are a bunch of bright kids. And besides, it's not like the bar for that is particularly high.

When I was younger, I think the value I got out of "being smart" was not having to work very hard to get a good-enough outcome.

This.

When I was younger, I think the value I got out of "being smart" was not having to work very hard to get a good-enough outcome.

The downside of "not having to work", at least for me, was that I never learned how to study while in high school. Except for German, I never had to.

Which left me having to figure it out in college. Seemed like everybody else there was just as smart, but knew how to go on. Took me a couple years to get caught up.

I like to read the comments here, because it reminds me there are still caring, decent, relatively intellingent people around who are concerned with what is important in life. Sebastin, your courage is laudable, to grossly understate the case.
I just watched my brother die of colo-rectal cancer in a palliative care center and my mother is in a very good provincial care center and is due to pass on from the effects of Alzheiemrs in a few months, at most.
I turn 69 in a few months and am changing a lot priorities and thinking, and at times I now feel like I am starting all over again.
Anyhow rather than ramble on, I would like to thank you for being here, in the wonderful(not) age of Donald Trump, Paul Ryan, etc.

Which left me having to figure it out in college. Seemed like everybody else there was just as smart, but knew how to go on. Took me a couple years to get caught up.

My experience as well.

Robert Burns, I'm so sorry about the loss of your brother, and your mother's condition.

Sorry for all that is going for you right now, Robert Burns. Hope that "starting all over again" is a fresh and rewarding experience for you.

What sapient and russell said, Robert Burns, and all good wishes to you.

That's why, as I've gotten older, I'm more impressed by people who change their minds or willingly step back from things, especially when they get older.

I too. Willingness to continue learning and adapting, while acknowledging one's diminished ability to do so, seems the only sensible way to live.
There's a place for rage against the dying of the light, but as a modus vivendi, it sucks.

When I was younger, I think the value I got out of "being smart" was not having to work very hard to get a good-enough outcome.

Yeah, I wish I'd had someone persuade me back then that there was no value in that...

Yeah, I wish I'd had someone persuade me back then that there was no value in that...

hear hear.

Ah, the wonders we all might have performed if only we'd been able to take the advice of our future selves....

One of the reasons I admire my kids is that they have the great good sense occasionally to listen to me.
:-)

As to advice we wish we’d had, and working hard:

What I really needed wasn’t advice, but a different culture to grow up in. ;-)

There’s all kinds of advice I now know I needed, but I also know that I wouldn’t have taken it at the time. I wouldn’t have taken it -- *didn’t* take it, for the most part -- because however unconsciously, I didn’t think the adults in my world had any useful advice to give me. (Plus later, in college, I was terrified at some level, but that's another whole novella.)

And there were reasons that went beyond just the fact that I was a cocky teenager. My parents valued education highly and wanted us all to go beyond high school. My dad worked two jobs and saved his meager pennies to that end for all the years we were growing up. But no one in my family had been to college, and they knew nothing whatsoever about it in a practical sense.

My guidance counselor was a sweet little nun who was “guiding” me toward what I called “tiny little nun-run colleges” outside Cleveland, or else Marquette (it was big, it was Catholic, it was in the great big world outside Ohio!). I applied to MIT, Radcliffe, Cornell, U of M, MSU, and the University of Detroit and got into all of them, with big scholarship offers to supplement my National Merit Scholarship.

With respect (and okay, no humility :-), I wasn’t Bernie’s bog standard “smartest kid in your high school.” There were maybe half a dozen kids in the country with SATs higher than mine that year. The admissions counselor at U of D (where my boyfriend and another close friend were already freshmen when I was applying to college; plus it was Catholic and made my guidance counselor happy) said that with my SATs I’d get into any college I applied to, “except maybe Radcliffe, and that will depend on whether they need an Italian girl from Ohio to round out the freshman class.” Apparently they did.

Far from being at pains to teach me the limits and constraints of my talents, and trying to foster some humility and a few useful life skills in addition to algebra (“learning disabled about politics” -- that’s me), all the adults in my world fed my ego (and their own) by egging me on to great achievement as measured by test scores and college admissions.

Beyond that -- I was raised Catholic in a small town in the midwest in the 1950s. We were taught that we could burn in hell in unimaginable agony for all eternity for … kissing our boyfriends? (Never mind what they would have said if they had known that it wasn’t a boy I really wanted to be kissing. Since I didn’t know it myself at the time, the issue didn’t come up.) With sex as my path to rebellion just as I was leaving home, there was another set of reasons why I put no credence in any damned thing the adults in my world might tell me.

And finally -- I probably don’t need to elaborate on the effect -- for trusting adult advice purposes -- of coming of age in the late sixties and early seventies, when another thing the adult world was doing was laying waste to Vietnam and a generation of young American soldiers.

This was going to segue into the “working hard” topic, but I’ll save it for another comment.

Tracking back to Sebastian's reference to the nun study -- I haven't kept up with it, so I don't know the latest conclusions, but long ago I read that one preliminary conclusion was that the brain may sometimes do quite well at compensating for one disease, but is overwhelmed when faced with two at once. At the time this fit quite well with what we had learned about my dad via autopsy: he had two things going on, MS and small strokes, and probably also some long-term heart problems.

I also want to note Seb's mention of puzzle-solving. I *love* puzzles. One of the earliest stories about me from my grandma, who took care of me while my mom worked, was that I could put together "My-nited States" at the age of one.

I've told my kids that when I'm cranky and unmanageable in the nursing home, they should just put sudoku puzzles in my lap and I'll settle right down. I don't do sudoku now, because I can't stop at just one (like Fritos, for those old enough to remember a certain commercial). But I have this sneaky (hopeful?) hunch that puzzle-solving (pattern recognition...) will be one of the last things to go, if I go that way.

Basically I hope we never have to find out. But like others here, I find myself unable to retrieve words or names sometimes, and less able to keep multiple tasks going at the same time, not to mention the crankiness. (And the sore knees.) But I don't see, so far, any parallel dropoff in my ability to solve puzzles -- which is a good thing, because at bottom that's what I do for a living. Which in turn is one of the ways in which I feel lucky: there are things about my job (or more accurately the company that employs me) that I don't much like these days, but the job itself is still absorbing and fun. Like being paid to solve sudoku or put together jigsaw puzzles, only with more moving parts.

Hard work topic yet to come.

P.S. I was astonished a few years ago when I first experienced not being able to retrieve a word that I wanted. It was like galloping up to a fence where there had once been only open fields. It drives me nuts. It also comes and goes...which makes me wonder about the effects of sleep, diet, barometric pressure, etc. etc. etc.

I think it's all too easy to conflate two very different kinds of memory challenges. One, which is what we mostly think of, is when we simply lose a word or fact or whatever that we once knew.

But I suspect that the more common one is simply an access problem. The way I describe it to my fellow IT types is: the data is all still there. But the index to the database is in increasing need of rebuilding.

For those of you not in IT, when you can find something via the database index, you can go right to it. When you can't, you have to read thru the whole damn thing sequentially in order to find what you want. Which, I submit, is why we suddenly "remember" something at 4 AM -- that's when the sequential scan finally gets to the memory we were after.

I can see a serious medical advance in someone figuring out how to do that kind of index rebuild in a human brain. Anyone know of any work in that area?

wj -- totally agree that there are two (at least!) kinds of memory challenges.

The index analogy for the access problem is a good one, but I wonder about another angle on it, which is: when I can't remember someone's name (though I could name that person's entire family for a couple of generations, and which street they live on, and where they went to school, and how old they are, etc...), I think of it more as if a pathway has been temporarily blocked (hence the galloping up to a fence analogy) than that the pathway has been destroyed and has to be recreated. Like, there's grit or fog in the works, but when the grit is cleared or the fog dissolves, the same old pathway can be used again. That feels more like what's going on to me than that a sequential scan finally gets there. But who knows -- maybe both ways can happen, or ... neither.

Fascinating, in any case.

The way I describe it to my fellow IT types is: the data is all still there. But the index to the database is in increasing need of rebuilding.

Years/decades ago I read a piece by a neurobiologist who hypothesized that there were two types of memory organization: bulk sequential memory and indexing. One of the examples he gave were song lyrics. Lots of people know the second line of lots of songs, but the only way they can retrieve it is to go through the first line. He suggested that there is a limited amount of indexing memory, and when it "fills up" as we age we have to reuse.

JanieM: ... (like Fritos, for those old enough to remember a certain commercial) ...

Janie, one of us is losing it: Lay's Potato Chips, says I.

--TP

TP -- right you are!

Maybe I mixed them up because I loved Fritos so much more than potato chips, and the motto fits them just as well.

Anyhow, does it count that I can still sing

Munch, munch, muncha buncha Fritos... corn chips! It's not polite to smack your lips, butcha can't help it with Fritos corn chips...

without looking it up?

Maybe jingles from commercials will actually be the last to go.

;-)

Michael Cain's comment reminds me of what Pinker named a book after: "Words and Rules" -- lj can correct me or elaborate, but Pinker says we know some parts of language by rule -- regular declensions and conjugations, etc. -- and some by lookup: basic vocabulary, irregular verbs.

The notion that a limited amount of something or other "fills up" as we age is intriguing, because it does often feel like that.

"Scientists have long held two different theories. One is that memories do not diminish but simply get overshadowed by new memories. The other is that older memories become weaker, that pulling to mind new passwords or phone numbers degrades old recollections so they do not interfere."
Memories Weaken Without Reinforcement, Study Finds

I can see a serious medical advance in someone figuring out how to do that kind of index rebuild in a human brain. Anyone know of any work in that area?

I think we're a long ways off figuring out the details of how that might work, let alone fixing it.

There's quite a lot of interesting recent research on Alzheimer's - some of which suggests that the build up of tau protein is very well correlated with localised damage - but again, I think we're probably a decade off a meaningful therapy.
For now, good diet, strenuous exercise and sleep are the best we have.

The names thing isn't a good proxy for memory in my case, as I've always been awful at remembering them - a mild form of aphasia, I think (it took me years, for example, to reliably allocate the correct names to Charles Branson and Charlton Heston, despite being quite clear which appeared in Planet of the Apes and which in Death Wish, etc...)

This thread has made me understand something in a new way: there’s a difference between working hard, and working on hard things.

Years ago I read a book called How the Universe Got Its Spots, by cosmologist Janna Levin. It’s a strange and engaging book – a sort of memoir in which Levin tries to explain her work to her mother, but in which she also relates tales of her life as (at the time) a peripatetic post-doc, in and out of relationships, not settled anywhere.

The most lasting thing I took from the book is that cosmology is *hard* -- even for cosmologists.

This hit home, because if I had followed my high school dream I would have become a cosmologist or something like it: astronomy was my direct ambition, modified to astrophysics by my choice of MIT because MIT didn’t offer an astronomy major as such.

After hitting all kinds of walls freshman year, I declared “literature” (don’t ask; it was MIT) as my major sophomore year. But I was troubled by the decision, so I ended up dropping out for what would have been the fall semester of junior year. When I came back I took one last stab at math/science by enrolling in two serious higher level math courses, which ended up in an even harder crash into what felt like an even more impervious wall.

It felt like some of my fellow students were prancing along the mountaintops, while I was slogging along in the valleys, struggling to get even partway up the slopes, and never reaching the mountaintops at all. It wasn’t that I was unwilling to work hard so much as it was 1) competitiveness (I had no idea what to do with myself if I wasn’t the best at something); and 2) frustration – because it didn’t seem to make sense to go into a field where there were people who were so obviously so much better at it than I was; what on earth could I contribute?

So I got a Ph.D. in English.

Levin’s book made me question that decision all over again, although it was truly too late at that point to contemplate going back to school for cosmology. ;-)

But as I think about it now, there's a distinction here that's important, or at least useful: I hadn’t quit math/science because I wasn’t willing to work hard -- I’ve always worked hard, by some definition. It’s just that I’ve worked hard at things that I find fun and, in some sense, easy.

It’s going to be interesting to apply that realization to the challenges of aging….

Maybe jingles from commercials will actually be the last to go.

I am looking forward to the medical advance that will flush the Marshmallow Fluff jingle out of my brain once and for all.

Speaking of useless information, I can remember most of the titles of the radio soap operas I listen to up to about 10 years or so old.

Charles Bronson is in Death Wish. I am not a network engineer because the math became non intuitive. And I hated proofs. Through my sophomore year in college I did all math in my head. Then I just couldn't. Some Calculus II course.

Then I focused on programming and used the calculator for the math.

Marty -- I hated proofs too, that was a lot of the reason why I liked algebra so much better than geometry in high school. (Plus, spatial stuff is not one of my strong points.)

But when I had my dabbling-in-linguistics phase ten years ago, the textbook for my semantics class was called "Language, Proof and Logic" -- and I loved doing the formal proofs. I think what had happened over the years was that being a programmer had taught me patience. I could still leap to some mental image of the general pathway to solving a problem, but actually writing a finished program requires a kind of patience for details that I never had to develop in high school.

I wanted to thank all y'all (or perhaps, rather than say thanks, express how much I value what you all have said). Despite mostly lurking I've been coming to ObWi for more than 10 years; hearing some of the fears held by people whose cogent online personae I value -- well, it's really something.

As for memory, a few weeks ago I had dinner with several people I hadn't seen since college. (The host was the common tie: she and I have been friends all these years, but she recently started spending time with all the others.) I remembered all of them, and mentioned classes I'd had with them or things they'd said, but none of them remembered me. My point being that one of them observed how good my memory was.

I was recounting this to my brother and he mentioned having the exact same experience. For instance, seeing an old friend and reminding him of something he (the friend) had said when they were in high school together in the 1980s. His friend shocked; my brother wondering, "Why would you forget such a bon mot?" (in not so many words, perhaps.)

My brother and I then agreeing we can hardly remember more than a week or two back at this point, for anything less than say 25 years ago. Having to do, mostly (at least we hope), with job stress etc., but more our stepfather's slowly dying for 12 years from Alzheimer's and our mother's slow deterioration from living with his decay. Still, at least I remember that conversation (at least so far).

Finally, for anyone concerned with present vs. future self, allow me to share: http://english.bouletcorp.com/2017/10/16/temporal-encounter/

Procrastinating, I'll give my take on Pinker, which is, I think, connected to some of the points in this thread.

imvho, Pinker is too clever for his own good. He hooked his wagon to Chomskyan generative grammar, but in the face of Chomsky's enmity for any kind of evolutionary explanation for human language, ends up trying to have it both ways, rejected Chomsky yet trying to keep in his good graces. There is no future in that, so (and I'm being pissy here, I freely admit), he goes off to write "The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined", a just so story about how violence has declined in our modern world because he carefully chooses his definitions of violence to be violence and chooses things that aren't violence to not be. I certainly don't begrudge him avoiding the question of whether there are specific linguistic constructs somehow 'encoded' in our brains (and a lot of interesting linguistic work is about how these systems can arise without any specific rules, check out 4E cognition if you are interested), but it tees me off that he uses the same kind of reasoning that makes generative grammar arguments so crappy and applies it to violence. To echo another point in this thread, I guess you will always go with your habitual thinking, which I think Pinker does.

Though my masters was in Linguistics, I've pretty much moved to Applied linguistics, which takes as a given that people have fluency in one language and the question is how do they get fluency in another language. Of course, when I did my masters, the joke was that Applied Linguistics was like grapenuts, cause they are neither grapes nor nuts...

I just want to say how humbling I have found this whole thread.

Not just for the courage so many have found to open up. But more for the problems that so many of you have faced in your lives, and kept right on going. It makes me realize just how easy things have been for me. And wonder how I would have coped/will cope when such things hit here.

Janie,

I became a great programmer, the best, I was...not. I wrote very efficient code in fortran, COBOL, CICS and then a few third generation languages but no one ever wanted to have to modify it. I was not a great documenter, in or outside the code, structure was optional. I loved debugging code though. Even today my dream job is just tech support for some old COBOL app that breaks every day.

As for useless info and jingles, I can still do the Teaberry shuffle, somewhat slower.

I've pretty much moved to Applied linguistics, which takes as a given that people have fluency in one language and the question is how do they get fluency in another language.

Acquire a romantic partner whose first language is the language in question.

Works every time!

I was never all that great at writing original code. But I could take other people's code apart and put it back together to run twice as fast in half the memory. At one time, that was a pretty good ability to have.

Huh, I'm working out what we all have in common: we were the smartest kid in.......

Janie's is (unsurprisingly) a truly impressive example, mine much less so. I was apparently in the top 3 in Hong Kong, for an IQ test administered when all children were 11, but the tests were in English so that obviously disadvantaged most Chinese children, so it's not that impressive. In any case, luckily my parents didn't tell me this til I was grown up, so it didn't do me quite the damage it would otherwise have, despite having to be tested frequently for a few years afterwards as part of a study on children with high IQs. However, it is true that, like others here, when I got to secondary school in England (and til I was about 17) I never had to do a stroke of work, and consequently never learnt how to. I don't think I ever recovered from this, because I subsequently dropped out of further education twice, and had a particularly chequered work life. But still, my mental powers didn't seem to decline noticeably until the last 8 years or so, and it's hard to say what's worse, the unprecedented difficulty in abstract thought, logical argument etc, or the sense that my (hitherto impressive) articulacy has almost completely disappeared.

The point is, as others have said, its very difficult to readjust one's idea of oneself, if your identity has been so tied up with brain stuff.

Correction: I think I noticed some decline as much as 15 or 17 years ago....

Another fairly high SAT scorer (2nd out of HS class of about 400) but academic underachiever (just barely finished in top 10% GPA-wise). A gifted procrastinator, but could write well once I got around to it. My stretching myself came in my Master's program when I switched from Screenwriting to Film/Video production, and completed a thesis film. Several of my college buddies also had the "feeling like a fake" syndrome.

I still remember things better than most, but not as well as when I was younger. I think I'm more scared of lingering, painful illness than losing my wits, not that I have any desire for that, either. Coming up on the 7th anniversary of my brother's death from pancreatic cancer, which probably informs my fears. Get your affairs in order, I did a few years ago, it does help to have lawyer and doctor friends to assist with that.

Good to hear folks' stories, I suppose this is a topic suited for a gloomy, January evening.

However, it is true that, like others here, when I got to secondary school in England (and til I was about 17) I never had to do a stroke of work, and consequently never learnt how to. I don't think I ever recovered from this, because I subsequently dropped out of further education twice, and had a particularly chequered work life...

Much of that sounds eerily, if not scarily familiar....

What's interesting is how many here seem to have found some sense of order, purpose and mental discipline through coding. I'm not sure, had I lived in the US rather than the UK (to a decade later in the latter), I might not have too.

On death, the contemplation of the end of one's existence is an interesting thing.
It's a commonplace that in our youth we act as though we believe we're immortal, but I don't think I've ever had that. I can remember from a young age being both fascinated and terrified by it, to the extent of having nights where I couldn't sleep for the fear of not waking up in the morning.

Over time, that has tipped over into equanimity

Random Korean TV drama comment... Misaeng is another excellent production.

I'm working out what we all have in common: we were the smartest kid in.......

ObWi - the blog for underachievers!!

:)

What's interesting is how many here seem to have found some sense of order, purpose and mental discipline through coding.

I think it is a matter of most of us being of an age.

When we were leaving school and looking for work, lots of businesses were looking for computer staff. But there were few or no schools which had computer majors . . . so they would take anyone off the street who was willing and able to learn -- which was us.

Why us in particular? Because either we had no other idea what we wanted to do, or (my case) nobody was hiring in the field I had thought to enter. And here we all are.

wj @ 11:55: yes, spot on.

they would take anyone off the street who was willing and able to learn -- which was us.

That's my story.

I got into it because I had read that musicians tend to be good at programming.

i got into it because my jr high got a few Commodore PETs in the early 80s and i thought they were the coolest things ever.

schools with comp sci degrees were fairly common, when i went to college. but i've worked with a ton of people who didn't go to school for it.

When I got to campus in 1968, one of the (many) things older students warned us about was getting involved with computers, because geez, some kids just got so obsessed with them that they dropped out of school and never got their degrees.

Some of those kids, and not just the ones at MIT, became rather famous. Not to mention rich.

When I graduated from high school in 1966, the only thing I had any interest in was computers. Something I had only read about and seen in pictures.

A newly opening junior college was offering a two year associate of science degree in computer programming. So off I went.

ObWi - the blog for underachievers

Finally, a slogan I can unequivocally get behind!

So whose real name is Bart Simpson?

eat my unsigned shorts

On the cognitive/intellectual-decline front, one thing I'd like to do when free time becomes more available to me in the future (i.e. when my kids are more or less grown) is to take college courses in areas that wouldn't be overly challenging but that would knock some of the rust off the old noodle. I'm thinking some combination of engineering/science-oriented stuff, like introductory fluid mechanics, and language-oriented stuff, like conversational Spanish.

I think that would be reasonably enjoyable and good for maintaining some brain elasticity. (That, or it will make clear how much I've declined.)

Epicurus for Nigel:

“Why should I fear death?
If I am, then death is not.
If Death is, then I am not.
Why should I fear that which can only exist when I do not?"

(they should hand this out to young people, but then death is quite erotic/romantic as well...)

wj describes my history exactly.

After my senior year in HS the local IBM office offered a summer course in Fortran - on a 1620. I took it and some years later managed to get hired off the street - to learn COBOL and program in it.

It is amazing to reflect how much programming has changed (I think, since I no longer know how) since then, as it has become an actual discipline. We just tried to get stuff to work.

It's something everyone does but that you can't ask anyone about how it went.

NB: can't vouch for the translation as I 'm sadly not a classicist - anyone?

I'm talking about programming, of course.

For those of you who use Firefox, you may have noticed a marked improvement in the current version, version 57. Much of the improvements may be due to a lot of Firefox's code being rewritten in Rust, the most interesting new programming language I've seen in recent yeaars.

college courses in areas that wouldn't be overly challenging but that would knock some of the rust off the old noodle. I'm thinking some combination of engineering/science-oriented stuff, like introductory fluid mechanics

ROTFLOL! The idea of fluid mechanics as "not overly challenging" just boggles the mind. Second order, non-linear, partial differential equations -- that would be the Navier-Stokes equation; all fluid mechanics (ideal fluids, boundary layers, etc., etc.) are just making simplifying assumptions, to reduce it to something that is actually solvable.**

HSH, if you've got a background in differential equations, and spend a little time getting back up to speed, you might have a chance. Otherwise, those math classes are where you'll need to start.

** I spent a couple of years in upper division, and a couple more years in a Masters degree program, doing exactly that. (And, first job involving programming, writing code to solve it as well.)

i'm counting on my slow, fitful, self-guided exploration of music theory to fill the role of keeping the rust off. that and playing at least a dozen on-line Scrabble games each week.

The idea of fluid mechanics as "not overly challenging" just boggles the mind.

Emphasis on "introductory." Something like what's described here:

http://www.essex.edu/onlinecatalog/course-descriptions/mechanical-manufacturing-engineering-technology/met-215-fluid-mechanics/

Pre-requisite: A "C" or better in physics 101. Puleeeez... Co-requisite: Calc 1 (and some other engineering-technology course at this particular school). Meh.

HSH, if you've got a background in differential equations...

I'm an EE (with his tongue sticking out).

I was never all that great at writing original code. But I could take other people's code apart and put it back together to run twice as fast in half the memory.

I'm the other way. I love a blank slate. They're hard to come by, though, most stuff I do involves working at least partly with legacy code.

There's a lot of pretty weird code out there. It's a little disturbing if you think about it, given all the things that run on software nowadays.

I'm thinking some combination of engineering/science-oriented stuff, like introductory fluid mechanics, and language-oriented stuff, like conversational Spanish.

Counterpoint, be-bop, and Greek, for me.

We just tried to get stuff to work.

Plus ca change.

There's a lot of pretty weird code out there.

Some of the worse FORTRAN spaghetti code I ever did maintenance on was for monitoring and controlling oil/gas pipeline pumping stations. 8(

@novakant, 2:03--

my Greek is rusty but I would say the translation is weakened by losing the sense of feeling or sensation found in anaisthetai (I bet you can figure out the cognate there!). But the translation does convey the sentiment nicely, or so it seems to me.

Just a belated comment on the "I was the smartest kid in my school . . ." theme. That goes for me and pretty much for "magistra" and "anarch" as well, FWIW.

OTOH, perhaps because I'm a few years older than most of you (finished high school in 1960) I completely missed the code-writing phase, and have been playing catch-up with computers (mostly word-processing programs) for the past half-century or so. By the time computers were widely available I was well on my way to an eventual doctorate in history, and while I knew I needed to _use_ computers (as I had learned to use the typewriter and the photocopier), I had negligible interest in the machine or process itself. My son, of course, grew up to be a software designer or something like that, because to him computers are natural.

WRT the original theme of personal fears, I am here to wave the much under-rated flag of Perpetual Denial. If you don't think about it, whatever it is, much less say it in print or out loud, it can't happen! More specifically, I find that dwelling on my fears only depresses me, so I tend to acknowledge them briefly and put them back in the box when I can.

But I will mention here that my major apprehensions at present have to do with the health of my wife of 48 years, which is in decline and unlikely to improve. I literally don't know what I will do without her, whether completely (as in death) or in such incapacity that "she" slowly vanishes. So I acknowledge, deny, and put this back in the box, figuring out that when the time comes I'll muddle through, because that's what I do.

Death itself - mine - does not frighten me at the moment; it's the years (?) between now and then, which all look to be downhill, that exacerbate my natural tendency to melancholy.

About music theory, don't know if I passed this on, but there was recently a boom with 'negative harmony' because of Jacob Collier, who recommended a book by Ernst Levy.

https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2017/07/11/mentioned-youtube-interview-dormant-music-theory-book-takes

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DnBr070vcNE

A bunch of my jazzer facebook friends were talking about it, if you want to dive into it, it sounds fun. I'm tempted, but I've got to work on Korean...

I am here to wave the much under-rated flag of Perpetual Denial.

Where can I get one of those?

dr ngo, I'm so sorry that learn that you are going through this difficult time.

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