It's no accident that history's firebrands and ideologues are young, while its peacemakers, judges and great theologians are more mature.
Until quite recently most researchers believed the human brain followed a fairly predictable developmental arc. It started out protean, gained shape and intellectual muscle as it matured, and reached its peak of power and nimbleness by age 40. After that, the brain began a slow decline, clouding up little by little until, by age 60 or 70, it had lost much of its ability to retain new information and was fumbling with what it had. But that was all right because late-life middle age crankiness had by then made us largely resistant to new ideas anyway.
That, as it turns out, is hooey. More and more, neurologists and psychologists are coming to the conclusion that the brain at midlife-a period increasingly defined as the years from 35 to 65 and even beyond-is a much more elastic, much more supple thing than anyone ever realized.
Far from slowly powering down, the brain as it ages begins bringing new cognitive systems on line and cross-indexing existing ones in ways it never did before. You may not pack so much raw data into memory as you could when you were cramming for college finals, and your short-term memory may not be what it once was, but you manage information and parse meanings that were entirely beyond you when you were younger. What's more, your temperament changes to suit those new skills, growing more comfortable with ambiguity and less susceptible to frustration or irritation. although inflexibility, confusion and even later-life dementia are very real problems, for many people the aging process not only does not batter the brain, it actually makes it better.
Essentially, the brain spends decades upgrading itself from a dial-up Internet to a high-speed version, not fully completing the job until age 45 or so.
(At age 47--I really like this article!!) This information is excerpted from Time Magazine Jan. 16, 2006. Written by: Jeffrey Kluger (you must have an online subscription to view). I transcribed this from the magazine. The entire edition is called: How To Sharpen Your Mind.