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A Few Notes on Old Age

Bram Adams
Bram Adams
5 min read

Table of Contents

But mandatory retirement came at age sixty-five . . . and so he retired. The next week he had a heart attack and died. (Location 1102)
“Those who are disabled from work by age and invalidity have a well-grounded claim to care from the state,” said Otto von Bismarck, chancellor of Germany, in 1889. Given retirement age and average life span were two years apart, that was easy for him to say. (Location 1162)

Retirement is a concept from Germany, quite recent as all things go…20 years before the Titanic.

Because of increased finances and improved health, older adults began to rely less and less on children and other family members. It was into this “cultural vacuum,” says [author Marc] Freedman, that the leisure entrepreneurs stepped in to offer older adults their vision of the “golden years.” (Location 1179)

The results were stunning. In 1951, among men receiving Social Security benefits, 3 percent retired from work to pursue leisure; in 1963, 17 percent indicated that leisure was the primary reason for retiring from work; and by 1982, nearly 50 percent of men said they were retiring to pursue leisure. (Location 1192)

into self-absorption and prejudice, tensions with younger people, boredom, and lack of a sense that they were contributing to society and to others’ lives. (Location 1195)
Retirement is a new concept. It didn’t exist before the twentieth century anywhere in the world except Germany. It didn’t exist before the nineteenth century anywhere. Retirement is a Western concept. It doesn’t exist in Okinawa or much of the developing world. Old people in those places don’t play golf every day. They contribute to their families and societies. Retirement is a broken concept. It is based on three assumptions that aren’t true: that we enjoy doing nothing instead of being productive, that we can afford to live well while earning no money for decades, and that we can afford to pay others to earn no money for decades. (Location 1197)
The Nobel laureate James Watson, who started a revolution in science as co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, put it to me straight a couple of years ago: “Never retire. Your brain needs exercise or it will atrophy.” (Location 1213)
Here’s why I’m outta here: In an interview 50 years before, the aging adman Bruce Barton told me something like Watson’s advice about the need to keep trying something new, which I punched up into “When you’re through changing, you’re through.” He gladly adopted the aphorism, which I’ve been attributing to him ever since. (Location 1217)

Its probably recommended to choose a place to live Where to Live? where you can't "retire" into the solitude and laziness of the car-house life-sink. Choose a vibrant place where your mind and body are challenged, but not crushed.

But to what purpose? If the body sticks around while the brain wanders off, a longer lifetime becomes a burden on self and society. Extending the life of the body gains most meaning when we preserve the life of the mind . . . (Location 1225)

Medical and genetic science will surely stretch our life spans. Neuroscience will just as certainly make possible the mental agility of the aging. Nobody should fail to capitalize on the physical and mental gifts to come. When you’re through changing, learning, working to stay involved—only then are you through. (Location 1236)
There is a strange fact about the human mind, a fact that differentiates the mind sharply from the body. The body is limited in ways that the mind is not. One sign of this is that the body does not continue indefinitely to grow in strength and develop in skill and grace. By the time most people are thirty years old, their bodies are as good as they will ever be; in fact, many persons’ bodies have begun to deteriorate by that time. But there is no limit to the amount of growth and development that the mind can sustain. The mind does not stop growing at any particular age; only when the brain itself loses its vigor, in senescence, does the mind lose its power to increase in skill and understanding. (Location 4922)
And this is a terrible penalty, for there is evidence that atrophy of the mind is a mortal disease. There seems to be no other explanation for the fact that so many busy people die so soon after retirement. They were kept alive by the demands of their work upon their minds; they were propped up artificially, as it were, by external forces. But as soon as those demands cease, having no resources within themselves in the way of mental activity, they cease thinking altogether, and expire. (Location 4931)

be as valuable as long as you can to someone else, create something new to fend off the grim reaper. the mind and body atrophy fast.

It is important to distinguish between probability and destiny. Just because you are obese or a smoker or couch potato doesn’t mean you are doomed to die before your time, or that if you follow an ascetic regime you will avoid peril. Roughly 40 percent of people with diabetes, chronic hypertension, or cardiovascular disease were fit as a fiddle before they got ill, and roughly 20 percent of people who are severely overweight live to a ripe old age without ever doing anything about it. Just because you exercise regularly and eat a lot of salad doesn’t mean you have bought yourself a better life span. What you have bought is a better chance of having a better life span. (Location 4039)
As the American academic Marlene Zuk has put it, “Old age is not a recent invention, but its commonness is.” (Location 5749)
Researchers from National Geographic were so fascinated by Okinawans that they studied what helped them live so long. What did they find out? They eat off smaller plates, they stop eating when they’re 80% full, and they have a beautiful setup where they’re put into social groups as babies to slowly grow old together. (Location 1122)

Technology has increased our lifespans by increasing probabilities. A coat and a fire increases your chances of survival in the cold to nearly 100%! 202212200052

An anecdote:

When I was a child, old enough to desire privacy, but young enough that most worldly things and I were on a first time basis -- on a birthday evening my friends and I were playing video games a drunken twenty-something stumbled into our house's back door. ^198d6d

The Goonies and I stared at the bare topped man, with a towel draped over his shoulder as he looked blearily at the toilet and said:

that is not a bathroom

He then stumbled into the kitchen and stared at the fridge for a number of minutes before making wis way back outside.

I should mention that I was born after the events of the Bleak Midwinter, and long before first budding of flowers. Fortunately for our inebriated musketeer, the Goonies and I had enough foresight to call the police on the man, and inform them that he was outside. I was told later they found him asleep next to a stop sign, and that our actions may have saved his life from the icy talons of frostbite.

You're welcome friend. I hope you found a bathroom.

I am doing a project about elderly programmers. If you are a programmer and over 25 please DM (View Tweet)

(29) 🫡

A human being is the kind of machine that wears out from lack of use. There are limits, of course, and we do need healthful rest and relaxation, but for the most part we gain energy by using energy. Often the best remedy for physical weariness is thirty minutes of aerobic exercise. In the same way, mental and spiritual lassitude is often cured by decisive action or the clear intention to act. We learn in high school physics that kinetic energy is measured in terms of motion. The same thing is true of human energy: it comes into existence through use. You can’t hoard it. As Frederich S. (Fritz) Perls, founder of Gestalt therapy, used to say, “I don’t want to be saved, I want to be spent.” It might well be that all of us possess enormous stores of potential energy, more than we could ever hope to use. (Location 1111)

Watching 70 year olds shop at wegmans made me wonder what the point of living that long is -just to consume? Can we not all be producers? Living in seasons of creating and rest? Or must we frontload all of our work in our career and then take off the evening years of our lives?


Bram Adams

writer, programmer


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