The brain´s ability to learn new skills can do so as we age
Neurogenesis is the process of creating new neurons for learning (new learning) and new connections between existing neurons (creative new aspects of old learning), which recently has been found to extend to adults (adult neurogenesis, of course) throughout the majority of their lives as well. Neuroplasticity delves from this process, and is the brain´s ongoing lifelong ability to re-wire and alter the brain from new knowledge and experience. That experience, knowledge, adaptability, exposure, learned methodologies constantly grows and adds to its capability. They are directly-linked processes that are quite intimately-related.
As we get older, the age-old theory was always that we cease learning new things, that our ability to absorb new information and updated knowledge became minimal. After a certain point, that was it. It was a somewhat depressing idea that led one to really start feeling one´s mortality after a certain point so there was an even greater need to learn and take-in as much as one humanly could before time ran out on that amazing thing called skill-learning.
However, as time has progressed that theory has, by numerous legitimate studies and sources, proven to be false. New discoveries in science and neuroscience have uncovered that we do, in fact, keep learning as we age. Less, slower, but nonetheless ongoing. Relief. Our ability to retain new knowledge and new skill-sets was seemingly back as a life-long endeavor. But was it really that big of a deal? Would it have really been so tragic? Sure, I guess it definitely disappointed in its scope, yeah. But…
What we often tend to forget is that even though we aren´t currently retaining new skills, learning new things, uncovering brilliant new life developments – we can always still “tamper” with the old ones. This is the difference between deep and shallow understanding of one´s craft and a robust way of absorbing knowledge. If one has only learned on a surface-level, one has far fewer options in terms of branching or diversifying one´s knowledge-base. If one has done so on a profound-level, it can be a never-ending matrix of interconnecting possibilities. If the “body of work” is holistic, diverse, in-depth, and comprehensive we can perpetually re-arrange the knowledge we currently have. Think of a puzzle. One rarely starts with the same order of pieces and maintains that order throughout the process, yet the same beautiful picture continues to be the final product. Think of gardening or land-scaping. One can re-arrange one´s backyard jungle infinitely, never run-out of different configurations, yet always come-up with something lush, colorful, and fresh. Or driving. One can take a number of different routes to one´s favorite places of nature or peace and still get to the same enlightening place. Cooking. Ingredients can change, flavors added or subtracted, methods altered but the end product is always uniquely delicious.
Now, let´s take that concept a little further. Imagine if one had multiple gardens. Or infinite routes or different ways of travel. A plethora of different recipes. One could cross-reference from a number of places and still come-up with something entirely unique and creative-stimulating. Such is it with varied skillsets. The more ingrained or invested skillsets one may have, the more potential there is to cross-over very different ideas and come-up with a thoroughly-interesting mix. For the industry that most often reads these articles, an example would be of inter-mixing different styles over the years to see how smoothly the transition is and synergistic the cross-over, exploring the very inner nuances of the styles one chooses to invest time in, and some deep-exploration of how far down the rabbit-hole goes. Few actually delve far-enough to understand the elements that can further be expanded and evolved with even a single style, system, method, or art – that robust template for multi-function of the branches of the proverbial skillset tree.
Then we could take ideas one and two and combine those as well. With a deep-knowledge, great experience, time-invested understanding of a thing, the possibilities are almost infinite. Taking a number of ways to do a thing and combining that with a number of ways to do another, entirely-different thing – and “learning new old things” could keep the creative juices flowing and satiate a voracious will to learn would never need to grow old. And, remember, our kids can still help us with the rest like flying a car, teleporting, having coffee with someone virtually in-person, and levitating. An example would be of mixing martial arts or combatives with something completely foreign or generally non-affiliated in any manner as some, including myself, have done with real-world neuro-linguistics, human behavior & psychology, cognition, and dual-processing.
So, in the end, we get the best of both worlds. Our learning has now been believed to occur well into old-age – and we can stimulate the creativity, adaptability, and diversity along the way. Maybe growing old won´t be so bad, and maybe this will ultimately dispel the “you can´t teach an old dog new tricks” metaphor and reinforce the “old age and treachery can overcome youth and skill” one in the process, unique context of course being everything. (though maybe age and experience have greater chance of dictating that context)
The ultimate trick might be to fool or mislead your brain into staving-off “feeling old”, self-restricting, and maintaining high cognitive-function as long as able, learning either new things, new ways to do old things, or mixing-and-matching all the way down life´s proverbial exploration. Ride the wave – don´t fight the current. And, to achieve this, maybe it pays to invest heavily into the root of what it is you study, train, research, practice, work at. Really exploring the fundamentals and understanding as in-depth as is possible. Depth with breadth instead of breadth superceding depth.
Far too often we are technique-, method-, style-, system-, art-hoarders instead of exploring the outer-reaches of our overall knowledge-base. Fast rewards, acknowledgements, fame, titles, certificates, rankings in whatever field has replaced a profound understanding of what one simply does and how to do it well with holistic-comprehension. The doing of the thing instead of the perception of credibility. Deep-knowledge is always superior to surface-theory. Maybe that´s a new analogy we should be using, regardless of age.