Psychologists who study creativity say that artists and writers often can produce more new ideas in their sixties or seventies than in their twenties. One interesting variable is that the later you take up any creative pursuit, the more likely you are to pursue it into old age.
Eliot Porter, one of America’s premier landscape photographers, did not publish his first picture until he was past 50; Julia child came to television when she was past midlife. In both cases, success steadily increased through the next three decades.
Creative experience may enhance the structure of the brain itself. Chinese studies of old people in Shanghai indicate that less educated people have higher rates of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease; the implication is that educated people, having been trained to use their minds, stimulate healthy brain activity.
PET scans show increased blood flow to the brain during periods of creative thought; a distinctive EEG of coherent rhythms across all bands of brainwave activity is associated with the “Aha!” or “Eureka!” experience that characterizes art and creativity in general.
Also, it’s a myth to think that it harms the brain to get too wrapped up in mental work. As long as it is enjoyable, concentrated mental activity gives rise to alpha-wave patterns typical of “restful alertness,” the relaxed but aware state also found in meditation.
Life is a creative enterprise. There are many levels of creation and therefore many levels of possible mastery. The later years should be a time when life becomes whole. The circle closes and life’s purpose is fulfilled. In that regard, active mastery is not just a way to survive to extreme old age – it is the road to freedom.
Adapted from Ageless Body, Timeless Mind, by Deepak Chopra (Three Rivers Press, 1998).