Friday, February 24, 2012

National Academy of the Extremely Vigorous

People of higher educational attainment live longer. This is widely known. Somewhat less widely known is just how far up the attainment ladder this pattern goes. People with Master's Degrees tend to live longer than those who stop with a Bachelor's. Even more longevous, on the average, are those with doctorate. But people who get a doctorate and then go get some random job don't tend to live as long as those who become tenured professors. And sitting atop this hierarchy of attainment and longevity are the members of the elite scientific academies, such as the National Academies and the Royal Society. Many people's tendency when thinking about this correlation, between attainment and lifespan, is to assume that being better educated helps one live longer. To some extent this is certainly true, and at the level of primary education, and even college education, there is experimental evidence (both true experiments and accidental experiments through policy changes) to prove this. But in thinking about the differences between groups of people with graduate degrees, I rather suspect that the causal relationship is rather different.

I'm thinking about this at present because I have had a very productive evening. Since coming home from a full day at work I've made dinner, done the dishes, played with my daughter, rocked her to sleep, folded the laundry, done more laundry and folded that also, cleaned the cat's box, organized things around the house, rinsed the drop-cloth we put under the highchair while my daughter learns to eat, cleaned the broccoli and potato bits out of the bathtub, written work emails, taken down the garbage and the recycling, climbed the 18 flights of stairs to come back up and written half a blog post. This is extraordinary for me, especially this time of year. I am almost always either coming down with something or trying to recover from it, or coddling an inflamed joint, or just feeling low energy. I lose a disgusting amount of potential productivity to being sickly. The elite academies members I know, and those who are not yet in those academies but seem likely to be in them some day, are all people who are this energetic all the time. If they do get sick, they seem to almost always be back at in after a day or two. It is rare for me to recover from a cold in less than a week, and not rare for me to be out for two or three weeks at a stretch. This is not to say that many of these people are not also smarter than me in important respects, but the trait that most unifies the really successful academics I know is their extraordinary energy and vigor. My boss, nearing his 70th birthday, and a National Academy member, hardly seems to know what it is to feel tired. He'll attend meetings on four continents in the course of a week, say how exhausted he is, and still spring from his chair to scribble equations on his whiteboard. So my belief is that people of the highest academic attainment live longest not because they are of high attainment, but because they are remarkable in their health and energy, which also allows them to produce the torrent of great science necessary to be elected to one of these societies. Alright, enough writing, I'm exhausted.

1 comment:

A said...

Also, a surprising number of the most productive people are morning people (or "larks" as the chronobiologists like to call them). This I am not!