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 Post subject: Factor of age on learning
Post #1 Posted: Tue Jul 27, 2010 2:15 pm 
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Hi,
I would like to know how much a "high" age inflicts on the speed of improving at go. My guess is that most people who are really good start playing go when they are kids, as is normally the case in sports.

Would you say it is possible to become a high-dan amateur if you are just starting to learn the game at age 28?

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Post #2 Posted: Tue Jul 27, 2010 2:16 pm 
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cuttingblue wrote:
Hi,
I would like to know how much a "high" age inflicts on speed of improving at go. My guess is that most people who are really good start playing go when they are kids, as is normally the case in sports.

Would you say it is possible to become a high-dan amateur if you are just starting to learn the game at age 28?


Definitely. I started at 23 and hit 1d at 27. That's not high dan, but I'm not particularly exceptional either. I cannot believe someone starting at 28 can't make it to virtually professional strengths given a) enough natural talent, b) enough time, and c) enough motivation.

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 Post subject: Re: Factor of age on learning
Post #3 Posted: Tue Jul 27, 2010 2:33 pm 
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I don't disagree with anything topazg said there, but it DOES get harder to learn as you get older. Look at the age of most pro players at their peak. It's only a handful that are competitive at the top level past middle age. When I was high-school and college age I learned things really easily (non-go stuff). I never studied because everything sunk in for me the first time around and I got all As. Now, even though I'm only in my early thirties, I have to work harder for things to sink in.

With go, it seems harder for me now to absorb new concepts then when I first picked up the game seven years ago (I was away from the game for about 5 years in the middle). True, it's more difficult concepts that I'm learning now, but it still feels like I have an "old brain". But I still have ambitions of reaching 3 dan or so someday.

Of course, reaching high dan is a lot of work, regardless of age.

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 Post subject: Re: Factor of age on learning
Post #4 Posted: Tue Jul 27, 2010 2:40 pm 
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Other folks can try to answer your question, I think it is more important for you to understand that this game can provide a lifetime of fascination, enjoyment, entertainment and discovery WITHOUT even reaching the dan ranks, let alone "high-dan".

Please do not worry about whatever ceiling a twenty something start implies - just strive and enjoy the journey.


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 Post subject: Re: Factor of age on learning
Post #5 Posted: Tue Jul 27, 2010 2:51 pm 
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[extended metaphor]
It seems to me that improving at go is kind of like going to college. Anyone of any age can go (back) to college. However, if you don't have the time in your life/willingness to study, and ideally supportive friends/family, it is harder and harder to do either as you get older. Younger people tend to have less obligations on time and attention, which seems to me to be at least as impacting as any effect of aging.

So yeah, you can get dan ranks, if you're willing and able to fit it in. If you focus less on it, however, progress will be slower and it is easier to set it aside and 'drop out'. So it's on you, just like it's on me to stick with it.
[/extended metaphor]

I agree with Horibe, though. While short-term goals are nice to reach for, it seems like it'd be better to just play because you enjoy it than feeling a need to reach a goal to validate the effort.

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 Post subject: Re: Factor of age on learning
Post #6 Posted: Tue Jul 27, 2010 2:55 pm 
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fwiffo wrote:
I don't disagree with anything topazg said there, but it DOES get harder to learn as you get older. Look at the age of most pro players at their peak. It's only a handful that are competitive at the top level past middle age. When I was high-school and college age I learned things really easily (non-go stuff). I never studied because everything sunk in for me the first time around and I got all As. Now, even though I'm only in my early thirties, I have to work harder for things to sink in.


All true. With age, learning gets harder.
However - this is not really such a decisive factor. You can still run fast, its just slightly more uphill. ;)

My 2c is that it gets harder, but by no means impossible. The argument about pros is slightly off since pros usually reach the peak of their intellectual capabilities, when age lowers these capabilities, as it surely does, so the strength of a pro decreases. With amateurs, especially weak amateurs (up to low-high dan, I'd say, 5d and below) - this should not be that much of a factor since our limitation is not really our mental abilities.

Point #1:
I would say that unless you really aim at the very top level and wish to realistically devote your life to the game, the biggest obstacle is simply the time. As you get older, you find yourself to devote more and more of your time to other things: family, career, further education, putting food on the table, etc. The change is especially visible with young adults - when they finish college, when they get married, when they have the first kid, etc. This is why you have so many strong young players who seem to stagnate when they get older.

Point #2:
Another obstacle is simply motivation. You need to study more and more to get stronger and stronger. At some level you need to study more and more to simply stay where you are. Taking into account that most of us don't enjoy studying hard (no matter how 'cool' we think the game is) and that motivation is derived by playing, at some point you reach a saturation point - the sweet spot of balance between how much you are willing to study vs. how much you like to play... And this usually determines the rank you finally settle on. It is different from person to person... and even from age to age.

Given the limited time stipulated by Point #1, I see Point #2 to be the decisive factor on how strong you can get, not really your age per se (although age has some influence.)

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 Post subject: Re: Factor of age on learning
Post #7 Posted: Tue Jul 27, 2010 3:07 pm 
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cuttingblue wrote:
Hi,
I would like to know how much a "high" age inflicts on the speed of improving at go. My guess is that most people who are really good start playing go when they are kids, as is normally the case in sports.

Would you say it is possible to become a high-dan amateur if you are just starting to learn the game at age 28?


The short answer is that barring any sort of degenerative mental diseases, it has absolutely no effect at all.

If you break it down to it's most fundamental levels, the brain is like an auto-associative neural net, and go is a big game of patterns. The real problem here might also be a little deeper than the college analogy would suggest. The college analogy is valid in that it does take a lot of work to memorize so many patterns -- but on another level, as we get older our brains get "full" and the amount of work that it takes to take in and hyper-organize new data begins to feel like too much work. Even pros would give up at some point, right? My take on it is that We as a species have never had to memorize so much data so we just can't, or rather we can, if we work really hard at it, but we decide somewhere we don't want to. Then again there may be another way..

Anyways I've heard many times if you love the game and play regularly you should never have any problem hitting amateur 6 dan. I mean come on think about it, all 6 dans are the same right? Go heads ;-)

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Post #8 Posted: Tue Jul 27, 2010 6:14 pm 
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The older ( post 35 yrs ) brain does not so much get worse as it gets different. The number of brain cells that you have maxes out sometime in your teens or early twenties at about 10^11, and weight maxes out at about 1400 grams.

We lose about a gram of brain weight every year thereafter. The is sometimes incorrectly translated to the alarming conclusion that we lose a million brain cells a day. We don't. Some of the loss is brain cells, some is glia ( the support cells ), and some is myelin ( the sheathing ).

The trade-off is that the connections get denser. You will have fewer cells, but more connections between them. You will suffer some decline in the ability for high speed linear calculations - like reading in go - but gain the ability to handle more subtle and complex ideas - like getting along with women.

You can learn go at any age. You will just learn it differently.

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Post #9 Posted: Tue Jul 27, 2010 6:33 pm 
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Joaz Banbeck wrote:
You will suffer some decline in the ability for high speed linear calculations - like reading in go - but gain the ability to handle more subtle and complex ideas - like getting along with women.

Well, I must not be getting old yet! My reading seems to be getting better; the getting along with women... not so much.

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 Post subject: Re: Factor of age on learning
Post #10 Posted: Wed Jul 28, 2010 12:55 am 
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It is tempting to underestimate the effect of aging, especially for older ones (including me close to my forties). But come on guys, let's be honest :)

Just compare the language learning ability of young children with adults. Why should Go be any different? The way of thinking is of course not the same but instead of learning words and phrases, you learn shapes, patterns and sequences. The aging effect could be even worse.

On the other hand, I completely agree with Horibe. Learning the game is a very much enjoyable journey regardless of at which level it ends.

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Post #11 Posted: Wed Jul 28, 2010 1:31 am 
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cuttingblue wrote:
Would you say it is possible to become a high-dan amateur if you are just starting to learn the game at age 28?


Just to throw in some anecdotal evidence:
When I was in Osaka recently, I met a ridiculously strong amateur (he claimed Japanese 7d, but I guess that was being modest, along the lines of "there can't be any amateur above 7d"). He's around 80 now, and claimed to have learned go when he was 30.

Of course that's in Japan, where you have access to lot's of really strong teachers ;)

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Post #12 Posted: Wed Jul 28, 2010 1:34 am 
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The only professional players I know of that started playing after age 12 are some of the western professionals (Catalin Taranu started at age 16, James Kerwin at age 18). They are the exceptions.

It makes sense, biologically, for children to learn quicker than adults. They're blank slates and need knowledge to survive as quickly as possible. From a certain age, when the basic patterns are there, the brain can switch focus to fine-tuning, rather than raw learning.

Still, that does not mean that adults do not learn. It just takes more time, and it will perhaps not be as deep seated. But there are plenty of players that started in their twenties and became strong dan players.

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Post #13 Posted: Wed Jul 28, 2010 2:08 am 
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Joaz Banbeck wrote:
The older ( post 35 yrs ) brain does not so much get worse as it gets different. The number of brain cells that you have maxes out sometime in your teens or early twenties at about 10^11, and weight maxes out at about 1400 grams.

We lose about a gram of brain weight every year thereafter. The is sometimes incorrectly translated to the alarming conclusion that we lose a million brain cells a day. We don't. Some of the loss is brain cells, some is glia ( the support cells ), and some is myelin ( the sheathing ).

The trade-off is that the connections get denser. You will have fewer cells, but more connections between them. You will suffer some decline in the ability for high speed linear calculations - like reading in go - but gain the ability to handle more subtle and complex ideas - like getting along with women.

You can learn go at any age. You will just learn it differently.


Actually, this is not the case. I heard an interview the other day with a science writer who wrote a book about the "middle-aged brain". She said this received opinion has been shown to be wrong.

However, we _do_ learn more slowly as we age, and this has long been proven in a variety of situations. I studied second language acquisition doing a master's in applied linguistics, back when I was teaching EFL, and I saw this, in person, with my own students. Learning any complex new task - be it a language, playing an instrument, or learning something like go or chess gets much harder as we get older, though it probably plateaus at some point (barring any neurological problems).

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Post #14 Posted: Wed Jul 28, 2010 2:54 am 
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I don't think you can apply this to learning go. As far as i know what suffers most with age is memory, which starts declining once your teens are over. I don't think that is such a large factor in learning go, and up to at least amateur 5d should be doable at any age. I think pro strength is out of the question past your twenties however.

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Post #15 Posted: Wed Jul 28, 2010 11:06 am 
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HermanHiddema wrote:
The only professional players I know of that started playing after age 12 are some of the western professionals ...

Nakayama didn't start playing until he was 13. He was unable to pass the pro exam until he was almost 30. "Since then he has defied the common perception that professionals reach their peak strength early in life" -- Sensei's

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Post #16 Posted: Wed Jul 28, 2010 11:16 am 
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averell wrote:
I don't think you can apply this to learning go. As far as i know what suffers most with age is memory, which starts declining once your teens are over. I don't think that is such a large factor in learning go, and up to at least amateur 5d should be doable at any age. I think pro strength is out of the question past your twenties however.


Have you ever been a teacher of adults? I have. As I said above, I've studied this stuff regarding second language acquisition. There's no doubt that learning is much more difficult as one ages.

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Post #17 Posted: Wed Jul 28, 2010 11:25 am 
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I think it is possible to get to strong dan even if you start learning late. However, time is a limiting factor on the amount of devotion adults can make.

Adults can also be stuck in certain ways of thinking, preventing them from getting an intuitive grasp of the game. Below is my experience when I was at a Go exhibition several years ago where we introduced the game whevever someone appeared.

Quote:
I guess most of the time I was teaching a father and his young son while my assistants went around introducing the game to others. Man, I had talked enough and the child was constantly fidgeting, a few times leaving the seat to look for other children to play only to be called back by his father. Experience tells me that children tend to have very short attention spans, so I should not be giving long introductions. However, it was the parent who keep bombarding me with questions thereby prolonging my introduction, which obviously made his child fidgeting even more. Interestingly, I observed that the father was holding some photocopied scientific articles, and the kind of answers that can satisfy his barrage of questions are those peppered with mathematical terms, such as "the connection of stones is transitive" and "you have to prove to me that this is not my territory".

As I ended my introduction, I asked the father and child to have a game. In no time the child captured more and more of the father's stones, while the father exclaimed that he just could not see the captures coming. I suppose there must be a difference between how a child learns and how an adult learns, as many children tend to be sharper in recognizing capture opportunities compared to most adults when learning how to play weiqi. The father also commented that switching from an international chess mindset to a weiqi mindset is not easy. Needless to say, the son won by a big margin. This seemed quite normal to me since I witnessed such things happening many times, but at the same time I can't help but to feel a sense of irony that the father asked so many questions and yet...

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Post #18 Posted: Wed Jul 28, 2010 11:32 am 
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unkx80 wrote:
I think it is possible to get to strong dan even if you start learning late. However, time is a limiting factor on the amount of devotion adults can make.

Adults can also be stuck in certain ways of thinking, preventing them from getting an intuitive grasp of the game. Below is my experience when I was at a Go exhibition several years ago where we introduced the game whevever someone appeared.


This describes exactly the major factors I, personally, feel as a late-comer to the game. The biggest factor is not having much time, for me.

... I still think I can reach professional-level strength ... I just don't know how long it will take. :) And, most importantly, I don't care how long it takes. The rest of my life, I plan to play as much go as my time allows. ;)

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Post #19 Posted: Wed Jul 28, 2010 11:35 am 
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kirkmc wrote:
Learning any complex new task - be it a language, playing an instrument, or learning something like go or chess gets much harder as we get older, though it probably plateaus at some point (barring any neurological problems).


Speaking as a fifty-something, I not only believe this to be accurate, but I experience it pretty much daily! My ability to learn Go is (for the amount of effort I put into it) pretty much stagnant. Over the past decade, I've taken up other new activities, and watched as younger people learned those new skill much more easily than I.

Age is most definitely a factor in learning. And that doesn't mean it should stop one from learning new things!

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Post #20 Posted: Wed Jul 28, 2010 11:50 am 
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Two possibilities:
1. Age makes it so you can never get strong.
2. Age doesn't make it impossible.

If you do your best, with the hope of becoming strong, if #1 is true, you have still put forth effort toward a challenging game. If #2 is true, you may become very strong.

If you do not do your best, neither of these outcomes will likely occur. You may always wonder what could have been.

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