Recently I noticed that I first “met” with all of the following BESTs at age 14 or 15 years:
- The most beautiful piece of music I’ve ever played: Pavel Chesnokov‘s “Salvation Is Created” (high-school summer camp concert band, I played bassoon)
- The most beautiful piece of music I’ve ever sung: Gregorio Allegri‘s “Miserere mei” (church choir)
- The best short story I’ve ever read: D.H. Lawrence‘s “The Rocking-Horse Winner” (found in the doorstop English class anthology-textbook)
- The best play I’ve ever seen: Jean-Paul Sartre‘s No Exit (“competition play” for my school’s Theatre Guild in a “drama” year)
And I don’t really have a best in any other culture/arts category like novel, movie, popular song, with all of which I had more extensive experience already before adolescence, and have continued to accrue more extensive experience.
How much psychological/philosophical/cultural “imprinting” does happen in adolescence, as opposed to earlier, later, or never? It’s a question obviously impossible to answer, but fun to toss out there, and far from irrelevant in the wider world.
The Economist, “Young voters: let’s set the world on fire,” 18 October 2014:
In the long run, however, wooing young voters is of paramount importance. A study by Yair Ghitza of Catalist, a data firm, and Andrew Gelman of Columbia University found that whites who came of age when Democrats were in power are more likely to vote Democratic in later years, and vice versa. In other words: like tastes in pop music, political affiliations forged while young often last a lifetime.
After all, part of the point of adolescent brain development is to hardwire our own shortcuts and “best processes.” National Geographic, “Beautiful Teenage Brains,” October 2011:
The first full series of scans of the developing adolescent brain—a National Institutes of Health (NIH) project that studied over a hundred young people as they grew up during the 1990s—showed that our brains undergo a massive reorganization between our 12th and 25th years. …[A]s we move through adolescence, the brain undergoes extensive remodeling, resembling a network and wiring upgrade.
… [S]ynapses that see little use begin to wither. This synaptic pruning, as it is called, causes the brain’s cortex—the outer layer of gray matter where we do much of our conscious and complicated thinking—to become thinner but more efficient. Taken together, these changes make the entire brain a much faster and more sophisticated organ.
This process of maturation, once thought to be largely finished by elementary school, continues throughout adolescence. Imaging work done since the 1990s shows that these physical changes move in a slow wave from the brain’s rear to its front, from areas close to the brain stem that look after older and more behaviorally basic functions, such as vision, movement, and fundamental processing, to the evolutionarily newer and more complicated thinking areas up front.
I am a consumer of cultural media. How far do its producers imprint during adolescence, or before or after? Well, Robert Pinsky admitted a “very early influence” from Philip K. Dick, one of his favorite writers in his early teens, in response to a question from me about inspiration for his poems’ imagery. (He continued, “So I would have liked to think that all the wonderful writers I’ve encountered since, like Cather and Twain and Hemingway, would have covered up that very early influence, but I guess you saw through to it.” Yes, I’d love to share the full version of “my Pinsky story” to anyone who would like to hear it.)
What about you?