We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
Can an analogy be made between the pursuit of mental fitness and of physical fitness during aging? I certainly do not know, so I will remain skeptical.
The idea that pursuing mental fitness could prevent Alzheimer's is ridiculous. However, it appears to me that many retired people take on difficult mental challenges for an hour or two daily to try to keep their brains geared up. I am not talking about passive learning (ie reading), but active studying. A few examples from people I know:
- A retired guy who decided to refresh his college calculus, and has since taken his math studies three levels beyond where he had gone before, and is still going
- A retired gal who has become fluent in Italian, and can now read Dante and hang out in Italy, considering buying a summer place in Ferrara.
- A retired lawyer who has become fluent in Mandarin
- A friend who decided to become fluent and literate in a new language every two years, and has thus far done that three times using Rosetta Stone.
- A friend who at age 50 has taken up piano in a serious way
- A retired executive neighbor who thought he was too smart to take up mechanics in high school who took up small engine mechanics and is moving on to (pre-computerized) auto mechanics. Now a grease monkey and very happy.
- A retired physician who decided to become an expert in immunology and the genetics of immunology, and has been doing so, while having to learn biomedical statistics on the side.
- A friend who has just gone back to college. Graduated decades ago, but feels she missed a lot.
Mental exertions/disciplines like these are analogous to physical training. I'm sure it's not wasted effort because difficult achievement is its own reward. One thing we know is that strenuous physical exertion (ie not walking or relaxed swimming) is good for brain maintenance but not the opposite.
I have been taking classes to try to learn Korean the last couple of years. Unfortunately, I have to report I have not been very successful; the brain cells involved in memorization don't work that well any more and there is a lot of memorization involved in learning Asian languages. And I tend to get Korean mixed up with the Japanese I know (which is an easier language and much easier for English speakers to hear, even though the Japanese writing system(s) are impossible).
kam sa ham ni da Jim. The trick is to have a Korean Girlfriend. The problem IMHO isn't that you are too old to learn it but that it is soo much easier to learn in full immersion. However if you are already married maybe calculus is a better choice.
I already have a Japanese Wife (happily married 33 years) so a Korean Girlfriend would not be a good idea. All Japanese Wives keep a samurai sword hidden under the bed. I do not want to wake up and the last thing I see be my wife in the White Kimono of Revenge.
"I am not talking about passive learning (ie reading), but active studying."
Yes, most reading is passive, if little learning. It is the conditioning we all receive in school. Read, but do not contemplate as any independent thought will mean you increase the risk of not giving the right answer on the test.
But reading need not be passive. If you read a few pages then stop to contemplate them, seek out other sources, try to organize the ideas into some order, make a judgement about the ideas value, then you are well on your way to studying. You must also try to incorporate them into your general thinking, always look for other ideas/facts that call them into question and make up your own mind about the ideas before considering the opinions of others.
What you list, learning languages, even mathematics and certainly piano, are vocational skills/knowledge. Very good to learn, but no different from learning vocational fields in your youth.
One should always seek out things that challenge what you "know" or fill in the gaps left by the conditioning of formal schooling.
What we become depends on what we read after all of the professors have finished with us. The greatest university of all is a collection of books.
Or sometimes, the practical skills of the useful arts to which we expose ourselves.
Assistant Village Idiot
I read constantly. Every month I zero in on some aspect of history or government that I don't know as well as I want to and read the best book I can find on the subject. Having done this for 20 years, I have become MUCH more knowledgeable in my teaching fields.
Once I retire, I want to learn engine repair and woodworking. I don't get to work with my hands enough now.
For anyone who reads French and wants to continue to use it, I recommend the University of Michigan's online project (anyone can ask to join) to translate and post online the articles from the mid-18th century Encyclopédie (https://quod.lib.umich.edu/d/did/). Some of the articles are very short (a few sentences) and some are very long (I am currently working on one that that is nearly 20,000 words) but given that there are something like 74,000 articles, there is plenty for everyone. And they are pretty interesting, too - a peek into the purest expression of classic Enlightenment thinking.