Age and wisdom – correlation and causality

If you ever want to understand what Economists describe as the “Identification error” – mistaking correlation for causality – just take a look at the relationship between age and wisdom.

There is undoubtedly some loose correlation between age and wisdom. Take a random 60 year old and a random 20 year old and it is likely that the 60 year old is wiser. While there exists this loose correlation, age and wisdom do not have a causal relationship. Or, to put it differently, growing older doesn’t automatically make you wiser.

Wisdom is defined as the quality of having experience, knowledge and good judgment. I would simplify this further as “the quality of having knowledge and good judgment.” This is because good judgement comes from experience, which, in turn, comes from bad judgment. This explains the loose correlation between age and wisdom. As we age, we tend to have more experiences and these experiences could improve our judgment.

To understand why it is hard, it is helpful to understand what I think are the pre-requisites or causes of wisdom –
An array of diverse experiences. If you have done the exact same job for 20 years, you have, in some ways, lived through the same year 20 times. The experience gained from such an experience is very narrow.
Reflection and assimilation of your learnings from these experiences. Even if you have had diverse experiences, there is no guarantee you’ve learned from them. Learning requires a commitment to reflection and assimilation.

It is hard enough to push yourself to find diverse experiences. And, it is exponentially harder to then extract the depth of insight from your experiences. That is why wisdom isn’t common and why it is flawed thinking to assume that age leads to wisdom.

It isn’t the years in your life that count. It is the life in those years.

age, wisdom, learning, depth of experience, diverse