Expendable after 40?!

Expendable after 40?!

What is the “commercial value” of an object of great consumption but little production?

For a period of some two hundred years America had an every moving new frontier. One of the appeals of this ever-present frontier was the sense that there was always a place for the rugged individualist. A place existed for the individual who was enthused about the prospect of uninhibited growth where each individual could test his or her capacity to be all they could be. No one had an edge over the other person beyond character and motivation.

Darwin’s theory teaches us that mating and reproduction is the means whereby the species adapted to a changing environment and thereby created the possibility for survival of the species. Generally speaking the human species stops this procreation process before the age of forty. Biological evolution provides little means for adaptation in our species beyond forty years of age.

Human instrumental rationality has created a technology that continually increases the longevity of individuals of our species. Instrumental rationality is the ability to determine and execute the best means for reaching an established goal. We have determined the goal of ever extending life to be a valuable goal and are constantly extending human longevity.

Simultaneously with an extended life span we are continually shortening the social value of longevity. Like the rest of our commodities we have a throwaway culture for long-lived persons. Our society seems to mimic biological evolution in placing forty years as the beginning of the end of adaptability. Biological evolution terminates concern for those beyond the age of reproduction and our culture terminates concern for those beyond the age of commodity production.

Biological adaptation has abandoned us after forty, our instrumental rationality is responding to our unexamined desire to prolong life; how do we mange to survive as a species if we do not find a rational means to engage this challenge? The challenge is to create the societal value of human life after forty.

Where is the ever-moving frontier of expectations for the man or woman beyond the age of forty? Is age beyond forty to remain the beginning of a throw-away social value?

If you quibble about the number forty you may use fifty or sixty or seventy if you feel better about it.

Humans do reproduce less after age 40. The rest of your post is mostly unfounded, unsubstantiated assumptions and beliefs that aren’t generally accepted. It reads like gibberish.

Either you are up too late, I’m up too early, or possibly both.

Have a nice day!

The evolutionary value of humans over 40 is wisdom. Reproduction by the the young is made more efficient if they learn from experience and avoid mistakes made by their elders. The old pass on knowledge which makes the species stronger and increases survivability. Species that do not pass on cultural wisdom rely on sheer prolific reproduction to overcome losses due to repeated mistakes. Because we can learn from our mistakes, and because our elders are a repository of that wisdom, we can be evolutionarily successful with less energy expended in reproduction. Your thesis that the old have no Darwinian value is false.

Yes, the evolutionary value of humans over 40 is wisdom, and there is an interesting idea in support of this.

The idea is that of the evolutionary value of menopause to human females.

Deer do not have menopause. Dogs do not have menopause. Lions do not have menopause. All these mammals can have young the year before they die of old age. They may not be at peak fertility, but they are fertile. There’s no time when they go through the Change and the periods just stop.

This makes sense, doesn’t it? I mean, if you want to max out your evolutionary chances to leave young, having a designated age (in USA females the median is 50 years old) when by no choice of yours, all fertility stops, is insane, isn’t it?

Until you look at how much of human survival is wisdom mediated. I’m not talking about Jared Diamond’s example of how the oldest person alive in a hunter-gatherer society maintains the precious information that helps people survive once-every-half-century natural catastrophes. I’m talking about the wisdom that grandmas have for grandchildren.

How often have you seen (or been) a young mother, say late teens or early twenties, extremely frustrated and baffled by a crying baby, at wit’s end to know what to do? When in walks Grandma, takes the baby over, cuddles it with experience in her arms, and the baby stops crying. Grandma also knows what to do for diarrhea or red spots or teething or fevers. Grandma is an integral part of why grandbaby survives to puberty.

Add to that the increasing likelihood of a Down syndrome child with advancing human age (chance is almost 1 in 4 by age 50; Down children can live long lives now, but half of them still die before age six, and in a hunter-gatherer society, were an evolutionary dead end) and the increasing likelihood of a fatal ectopic pregnancy with advanced age (although the greatest number of ectopics occur in 20-30 year olds, that’s because the greatest number of pregnancies occur in the same cohort; the greatest percentage of ectopics by far occur in 40 to 50 year old women who get pregnant - with more decades of exposure to infections, scarring in the delicate folds of the Fallopian tubes is more likely).

So a woman of 60 who gets pregnant is likely to have a Down syndrome child, or to die herself from a ruptured ectopic.

So it’s worth it by an evolutionary calculation to have menopause, because them old women are a sight more useful helping Daughter to raise Grandbaby than they are having more daughters of their own.

And Grandpa has hunting and fishing knowledge, and also helps maintain Grandma, who in her turn helps maintain him.

And if like me, you have no children, you can maintain nieces, nephews, or more distantly related members of the tribe, with your wisdom… which has direct evolutionary payoffs in terms of survival of the young’uns.

Or were you looking for a non-evolutionary reason to create (hah! create!) social value for over 40’s?

Or are you just feeling low because with the passage of your 40th birthday you’re not as sexy as you once were? Honey, join the pile on. We all feel that.

We just turn our attention to other esoteric areas of our expertise (people get good at things after forty) and try to find like minded folk to socialize with. Some of them even find us attractive!

Cecil has written on this subject. The problem is that until very recently, the average woman died before or around the onset of menopause, so how could it have an evolutionary advantage? And apparently other mammals do go through menopause.

Ha. Youth abhors old age, and lacks the wisdom to know better.
Ever wonder why it’s the grays running things (countries, industry, etc)? It’s not because there’s an organized conspiracy perpetrated by old farts to suppress the idealistic genius of youth. It’s because kids don’t know shit. Sorry.


Winston, Olde Farte (at 36)

She also keeps us from feeding the younguns to the wolves when we have a bad day.

Why not 30? Or 20?

Most of your OP is essentially well written but meaningless. What exactly is “societal value”? Are we talking art? Culture? Innovation? Career progression? Leadership and guidance? If that is the case than a persons 40s is their prime years. You seem to imply that babymaking is the only societal value.

I suspect that you are very young person. Most young people have a skewed perspective of the world where they overestimate their importance in it. They feel their beliefs, their ideals, their music, their way of doing things, is the height of culture and that after some arbitrary cutoff, all those “old foggies” are “out of touch”.

I meet a lot of 20 somethings who think they are hot shit in a new job and know everything. They think everything is new and they have all the answers (as did I). The reality is that they are working in the exact same world as people in their 40s, 50s, and even older who have seen it all before and have been doing it for 10, 20 + years.

The advantage of youth is that they don’t know no better. Their idealism is not bound by reality or pragmatism brought on by experience. It is both an advantage and disadvantage.

If the average woman died before or near menopause, that means at least some do live beyond it. The tribe just needs a few older folks to make the difference between life and death in difficult times.

Another issue is that it takes a decade or so to raise a human child. If humans continued procreating until at death’s door, most of the offspring of the previous 5 - 10 years would have no one to care for them, making the last 5 - 10 years pointless from a reproductive standpoint anyway. Ceasing to bear children but continuing to live lets those last few children have a better chance at survival.

Again, it’s not necessary that ALL live past the age of procreation, but having at least some do so increases the over all success of the group.

As far as other mammals having menopause, I’d be interested in knowing which ones those are, and how long they generally live afterward. If just long enough to raise their last child, that would reinforce my point.

Actually, on re-reading Cecil’s article, I think it does reinforce the point. The post-menopausal mammals live, on average, long enough to raise their last child.

As far as the “granny effect” being disproved in lions, IMHO that’s irrelevant. In humans it would be different because of the longer time frame. The example I’ve heard is that if there were a once-in-50-years drought or other difficulty, the existence of even one old man or woman who remembered a spring that continued to run through the last drought might be the group’s savior. It gives the “group memory” an additional few decades of accumulated experience. One can also imagine that an older person, no longer chasing prey or bearing children, would have the time to develop other skills that could be of use to the group, and handed down to the next generation. Healing skills and crafts come to mind. Lions would have little or no use for such memory, and in any case the additional 3 - 6 years of life would not make a difference for lions.

Didn’t you hear? Darwin is dead. Natural selection, as you’re suggesting, is no longer in operation for the human species.

Thanks for you support.

You have said the magic word. If longevity is to have value it must come in the form of wisdom. You display perception that seems unusual. Now the question is how to develop in longevity the wisdom that all nations require.

It appears that most people turn off their intellect after schooling when in fact that is the time to put it into gear and prepare for the days of producive intellection.


Wisdom is the answer. It is the wisdom that our society badly needs and it is wisdom and knowledge and understanding that people should prepare to give to society as they grow older. As you say reproduction ends and it is through our intellects that we can provide the value to society.

I am 72 and have 5 children and 7 grandchildren. I am a retired engineer and have been an active self-actualizing self-learner for 25 years and it is this self-learning that I think should become part of everyone’s life so that as they grow older their contribution to society can be wisdom, which is exactly the ingredient that is so missing today.

IMHO our society no longer values wisdom, critical thinking or tought decision making. It caters to this superficial youth culture that embraces things like external beauty, superficial popularity and the indulgance of adolescent behavior. It’s not important to do the right thing, it’s important to be liked and accepted by the group.

Adults should not be emulating teenagers, teenagers should be grow to learn adult responsibilities. At 33, I still have a number or juvenile interests - drinking with the guys, playing videogames, watching Southpark. But I show up to work on time, attempt to treat people with respect and in general be a responsible adult in every way that counts. I know many people who are simply 20 or 30 or even 40 something year old retards.

I think that most, if not all, societies today have more information and knowledge than is required and they have far less understanding and wisdom than is required.

Societies today have an aching need for persons with understanding and wisdom. It is these two very important intellectual qualities that are missing; which older people can provide if they have the character, will, and caring necessary to do so.

I think that today few older citizens are capable of supplying these two needs because they did not prepare themselves for this demand when they were younger.

In the summer of 48 my older brother told me that if I wanted to play high school football I had to ‘get ready’. In his terms, ‘getting ready’ meant running to get in condition for the rigors of football practice.

In the summer of 06 I want to begin the quest for wisdom. How do I ‘get ready’ for becoming wise?

Starting with the definition of wisdom as “seeing life whole” seems to be as good a place to begin as I can think of. How do I get ready to see life whole?

It seems to me that to see life whole I must learn a great deal more than I already have learned but I must start with where I presently am. I am convinced that learning new stuff requires three aspects of mind; mentally I must have curiosity, caring, and an orderly mind.

I claim that curiosity and caring are necessary conditions for understanding. Understanding is a far step beyond knowing. I will not examine a matter for the purpose of understanding it unless I am curious about it. I must care enough about the matter to do the intellectual work necessary to understand.

Understanding is a step beyond knowing and is seldom required or measured by schooling. Understanding is generally of disinterested knowledge, i.e. disinterested knowledge is an intrinsic (due to the nature of the self) value. Disinterested knowledge is not a means but an end. It is knowledge I seek because I desire to know it. I mean the term ‘disinterested knowledge’ as similar to ‘pure research’, as compared to ‘applied research’. Pure research seeks to know truth unconnected to any specific application.

Understanding is often difficult and time consuming and the justification is not extrinsic (outside cause) but intrinsic.

Speak for yourself. Some people have their intellect turned off during schooling, and some people never turn it off.

I agree with everyone about the wisdom thing (being well over 40 myself) but it must be balanced with the recognition that yesterday’s wisdom may be today’s foolishness, especially in areas of high change like engineering. Sometimes young people are correct in rejecting our wisdom.

Preach it, Voyager! I agree. I’m more intellectually active now (late 40’s) than I’ve ever been in my career, and frankly a lot of the activity is tossing out the misinformation I got taught earlier. Of course in med school they warned me that half of what I learned there would be wrong. And many of the Pearls of Wisdom my mentors taught me are now wrong, or even dangerous.

But not all. They taught me some good stuff too.

And sometimes wisdom comes from you young upstarts, Qadgop! I still have some advice that you posted within the last three months pinned to the wall beside me. It begins with “Detach with love…” And you are not even in your fifties yet, Doc! My goodness, there is no telling what you will contribute to society when you are “old Doc Mercotan.”

coberst, you are most welcome here. You are not the oldest here, but it’s always good to see someone older that I at sixty-three.