We grow older than ever before in human history: people born today can expect a lifespan greater than a century. But where the individual sees promises of a long life, our society faces a fundamental transition – and we are only beginning to perceive its effects. Moreover, old age is associated with deep-seated worries and fears. So it comes as no surprise that the public discourse is a discourse of crisis, with all the horror scenarios and cliché that this entails. But is it desirable for the individual, and is it useful for our society, to see ageing solely as a process of degeneration – as physical and mental decline? Science, art and philosophy are starting to make an increasingly convincing case that we need a more differentiated view than the stereotype “old age equals degeneration”. In old age, we develop some abilities that we did not have in earlier parts of our lives, and expand upon others, for instance emotional intelligence, certain forms of linguistic competence etc. This process can be adequately described not as a mere degeneration, but as a transformation. The brain reorganises and reorders itself, allowing us to draw on formerly unavailable capabilities. This specific potential in the ever-increasing number of elderly people society as a whole could put to constructive use.
This year’s CIN Dialogue undertakes to contribute to a differentiated discourse on age(ing) and its consequences. The discussants are: leading Alzheimer’s researcher Konrad Beyreuther, psychologist and cognitive scientist Jochen Brandtstädter and philosopher Thomas Rentsch. Wieland Backes will chair the discussion.