If What You’re Doing isn’t Getting Better with Age, You’re Doing it Wrong

Sean McClure
2 min readNov 9, 2023

We need structure to have skill; to get things done. When we’re young we find that structure in specificity. We view things in black and white. We want our opinions to be “scientific.” Add to this schooling, which only tests us on low-dimensional thinking. Specificity gives young people a feeling of stability in a highly uncertain world.

But what works in the real world is abstraction. Abstraction subsumes details into higher-level categories that work in multiple circumstances. Abstraction is how life maneuvers through massive complexity. The older we get the more details we strip away, because older people have seen too many instances of things that seemed different, turn out to be the same thing. That’s abstraction.

If what you’re doing isn’t getting better with age you’re doing it wrong.

The young person wins the math competition, the speedcubing championship, the chess tournament, the spelling bee, the whiteboard interview. But these are all low-dimensional games that have little to do with the real world. Competitions, like schooling, use invented tests that only make sense when reality has been narrowed-down into a sterile and unrealistic testbed. Young people like to calculate, be precise, get the “answer.” But calculating doesn’t solve real-world problems; knowing what all those calculations mean, and how their core properties are leveraged by nature, does.

If what you’re doing isn’t getting better with age it’s because you think you’re still playing in that narrowed-down, sterile, unrealistic testbed. You are still trying to calculate, but your mind knows better. It shed such naive notions of life a while ago. With age comes abstraction. That’s where the real processing power lies.

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Sean McClure

Founder Kedion, Ph.D. Computational Chem, builds AI software, studies complexity, host of NonTrivial podcast.