Enduring Questions in Gerontology


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Less attention was given then to contemporary American philosophy. Although there was interest in the enduring questions Who am I? Every historical epoch is characterized by its own questions, the generation of ideas that rise and decline, and notions of the limitations of our ideas.

So it is that the quest for knowledge, not the certainty of our ideas, that forms the heart of inquiry. Finding a truth that endures is a leap of faith. In my transition into a graduate student, I quite incidentally encountered a biologist turned general system theorist, Ludwig von Bertalanffy. His Problems of Life and later his General System Theory laid out the rationale for a theory of interaction between organism and context that had multiple alternative outcomes.

Leadership and initiative are key factors in the choices made and implemented. This seemed to me a compelling reason in human development to consider the possible viability, if not preferability, of alternative responses and to expect to observe sustainable variety in aging processes. All the alternative options for achieving well-being in later life lead one to anticipate changing perspectives and understandings of later life.

Changing perspectives would be a normal and expected condition in science, and perhaps to a lesser degree in scholarship generally. So expecting consensual final answers to enduring questions would seem improbable. But there is not much evidence of interdisciplinary action or how interdisciplinary training occurs or should occur. As I noted in my account of my career at the Duke Aging Center in the early days, exposure to and working with colleagues in a variety of disciplines were usual and expected.

Even there, multidisciplinary exposure only occasionally led to conversations about, or actually pursuing, the potential for integrating disciplinary theory and thought styles of various disciplines.

Such integration is intellectually challenging, but something more than that is involved. The younger scientists being studied perceived interdisciplinary research to be risky for their careers and foresaw negative effects on their careers. Creative attack on APC analysis requires investigators with theoretical and research skills from human development, psychology, sociology, history, demography, epidemiology, and the methodology of research design and analysis.

Although the stimulus for interdisciplinary research in gerontology is not absent, it has certainly not been a feature of the field. Read the chapters in this book with this challenge in mind. Where does a more integrative interdisciplinary perspective potentially have useful applications?

How might understanding of the unsolved, hence enduring, questions be advanced if not resolved? New frontiers in the future of aging: From successful aging of the young old to the dilemmas of the fourth age. Journals of Gerontology, 49, — Bertalanffy, Ludwig von. Problems of life. London: Watts. General system theory.

New York: Braziller.

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Busse, E. The Duke longitudinal studies of normal aging, — New York: Springer. Finch, C. Dialogues in biogerontology between molecular reduction and ecological integration. Contemporary Gerontology, 11 3 in press. Fries, J. Aging, natural death and the compression of morbidity.

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New England Journal of Medicine, , — Kuhn, T. The structure of scientific revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Langer, S. Philosophy in a new key. Maddox, G. Aging differently. The Gerontologist, 27 5 , — Scope, concepts and methods in the study of aging. Shanas Eds. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold. Rhoten, D. Risks and rewards of an interdisciplinary research path. Science, , With each advance in our knowledge, new horizons have come into view, raising further questions and promoting groundbreaking approaches and solutions.

Nevertheless, ongoing issues continue to inform gerontological research and theorizing even as new issues emerge. As George Maddox so convincingly acknowledges in the Prologue, the complexity of aging requires interdisciplinary approaches necessitating gerontologists to remain current in their knowledge of neighboring disciplines. By suggesting ways in which a discipline has influenced other disciplines or benefited from the influence of other foci, the authors in this volume show how, in tandem, progress emerges when boundaries are pushed between what we know and what remains ambiguous.

The authors elucidate which parameters are stable and which change in the context of emergent concerns and contextual transformation.

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As James Birren contends in the epilogue, and the other contributors make clear, the diverse nature of aging issues has resulted in a greater need to integrate knowledge from each disciplinary focus. Collectively, the authors identify emerging issues and provide a context for current foci within the field of aging that will prepare readers to make their own contributions to the knowledge base necessary to make a difference.

What are the enduring questions of gerontology? As noted above, and by Maddox in the Prologue, to a certain extent these questions reflect disciplinary viewpoints. To further our knowledge of gerontology, we turn to received wisdom, established methodologies, and familiar procedures. Our scholarly traditions determine the routes taken, establish the boundaries for exploration, and validate what counts as discovery. It is small wonder that some questions recur as the mere practice of a way of doing things provides corroboration of the logic of a particular way of knowing and facilitates the creation of communities of knowledge Turner, The philosopher-mathematician Alfred North Whitehead was prescient as he pointed out that knowledge is a matter of perspective, of points of view, and any chosen vantage point will obscure alternative itineraries.

As we explore the further reaches of what is known, certain nagging questions remain unresolved, and we often simply elect to move on. To acquire knowledge, we must also be able to discern whether or not something is that same question, regardless of appearances. When, in light of new information, does a question ask a different question even while appearing the same?

For example, when Newtonian physics was shunted aside in favor of the Einsteinian framework, were physicists asking the same questions about velocity? In gerontology, questions that appear the same may have different answers because of the changing meanings and contexts in which they are asked.

As the authors illustrate, consider how definitions of who is old are influenced by politics. Similarly, our notions of what is normal with age have changed as we separate out aging per se from age-related conditions. As a result, dementia is now recognized as a disease, and so the possibilities for a solution have changed. Identifying Enduring Questions In Gerontology 15 As gerontologists, our training necessarily involves an implicit bridge to disciplinary traditions and ways of knowing. Accordingly, when progress occurs, it is not surprising that it does so in fits and starts; subject to strictures imposed by professional knowledge communities Hendricks, ; Katz, Andrew Achenbaum phrases it in chapter 8, molds the next generation of scholars whose undertakings reflect the intellectual nimbus of luminaries in their field.

Achenbaum artfully highlights a dozen themes near and dear to the heart of gerontologists that have been sifted through by successive generations of gerontologists and that serve as the polestar for charting the course of scholarly agendas for a significant portion of the gerontological community. Despite the inspiration and guidance thus provided, the remaining to-do list is daunting indeed.

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Enduring questions involve concerns that are invariant over time, places, and worlds. However, they are not questions that are, in fact, a focus of all cultures, but rather those questions about aging that should be the focus of all cultures. For this we will need a general sense of what is fundamentally the same, even though details and definitions may differ.

Complicating things further is the self-referential nature of our field in which knowledge is adopted and influences the phenomenon i. Therefore, as we have learned about the importance of context, or in the case of human beings, lifestyle, in relation to aging, that information has influenced behaviors among older adults in ways that affect later research.

What are the enduring questions in gerontology across cultures or across time?

Enduring Questions in Gerontology Enduring Questions in Gerontology
Enduring Questions in Gerontology Enduring Questions in Gerontology
Enduring Questions in Gerontology Enduring Questions in Gerontology
Enduring Questions in Gerontology Enduring Questions in Gerontology
Enduring Questions in Gerontology Enduring Questions in Gerontology
Enduring Questions in Gerontology Enduring Questions in Gerontology
Enduring Questions in Gerontology Enduring Questions in Gerontology
Enduring Questions in Gerontology Enduring Questions in Gerontology

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