The Mature Mind | Gene D. Cohen

Summary of: The Mature Mind: The Positive Power of the Aging Brain
By: Gene D. Cohen


Dive into the fascinating world of the aging brain in Gene D. Cohen’s ‘The Mature Mind: The Positive Power of the Aging Brain’. The summary of this insightful book unravels the myth of fuzzy thinking that often plagues the elderly and sheds light on the cognitive advantages that come with age. You will discover the concept of ‘developmental intelligence’, the impacts of exercise on neural development, and the four stages of the second half of life. The primary focus of the book is to highlight the positive aspects of an aging brain and the various ways it can adapt and contribute to the individual’s continuous growth and development.

The Advantages of Aging

Aging brains gain more advantages than disadvantages. Accumulated knowledge, experience, and wisdom can boost cognitive functions and help to deal with emotional difficulties.

An elderly couple needed to attend a dinner but cannot find a cab to take them there because of a snowstorm. However, they exhibited resourceful thinking, walked into a nearby pizza shop, and ordered a pizza, along with delivery of themselves to the destination address. This anecdote shows that elderly people’s mindset is not necessarily “fuzzy” or less agile as commonly assumed. The belief that the elderly cannot learn as readily as they used to, that their brains cannot generate new brain cells, and that intelligence depends on the number of neurons in the brain and their speed of work are all false propositions.

The aging process affects the brain, but it also offers numerous advantages that younger brains do not have. Elderly people gain accumulated knowledge and experience, greater wisdom and profound insights, and enhanced neural connections that improve brain function. Continual mental activity and exercise can stimulate the growth of more neurons and enhance the neural architecture, translating to increased ability to deal with emotional difficulties. Additionally, the limbic system becomes more serene as we age, resulting in a more calm and less negative outlook in adversity.

Older brains are far more complex than younger ones. Unlike young people who only use one half of their brains for specific cognitive functions, the elderly can use both sides, which allows them to perform tasks with far greater accuracy and efficiency. Research indicates that by challenging our brains continually, we can boost our brain power. Learning a new language, engaging in physical exercise, and staying socially active are ways we can embark on a course of self-improvement, including the elderly.

The elderly should work to develop their “developmental intelligence,” which is marked by a maturation of social skills, emotional intelligence, life experience, and overall cognition. This “developmental intelligence” translates to a heightened ability to perform high-level cognitive functions, involving three distinct thinking styles, which are: Relativistic thinking, dialectical thinking, and systematic thinking. These thinking styles manifest themselves in various sophisticated forms of cognition, including judgment, wisdom, and perspective.

In conclusion, aging brains come with more advantages than disadvantages. We gain a myriad of physical and cognitive benefits that enrich our lives and help us cope with challenging situations. Anyone, including the elderly, can embark on a course of self-improvement by continually challenging their minds through mental activities, exercise, and social engagement. Aging is not necessarily for “sissies,” but it can be a rewarding and fulfilling stage of life.

Four Stages to Maximize your Brain

The book sheds light on the four stages of life in which individuals can put their capable brains to the best use. In Phase I, which is often described as a midlife crisis, people re-evaluate their lives and begin questioning their existence. This period can lead to anxiety and depression. Phase II, which usually starts in the late 50s, represents freedom and experimentation, where people feel the urge to try new things and the brain grows through dendrites and development of new neurons. Phase III is a time when people determine the meaning of their lives, focusing on storytelling and giving back. Phase IV is an encore period that starts in the late 70s and goes on until death, where individuals develop humor about their mortality. The book suggests that regardless of age, individuals can develop and change their brains throughout their lives.

The Wisdom of the Old

The book features a skull exhibited at the state museum in Tbilisi, Georgia. Referred to as “the old man,” the skull dates back to 1.8 million years ago, belonging to the hominid species Homo erectus. The insights derived from the skull reveal that the tribe members had a form of language and the elders passed down knowledge to the younger, thereby ensuring their collective survival. The book argues that older people possess accumulated knowledge and experience, commonly known as “crystallized intelligence,” which they can pass down to the younger generation. As people age, they grow more contemplative and are able to make better decisions based on a full range of available information, intuition, and feelings. Memory becomes the foundation of wisdom as changes take place in the brain, making it work more efficiently. Contrary to popular belief, cognitive and intellectual abilities do not peak in young age, but in midlife and beyond. The book emphasizes that the old have much to teach the young, accentuating the value of learning throughout our lives.

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