12/13/2007 04:23 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Noble Pursuits -- At Any Age

I am thrilled that Al Gore got the Nobel Peace Prize. I am also delighted that Doris Lessing was awarded the prize for Literature. I have carefully read the accomplishments of the winners in Physics and Chemistry and Medicine, and am deeply impressed -- if slightly bemused -- by their dazzling scientific achievements.

But to be honest, I am less impressed by the Economics prize. Not the practitioners, mind you, but the field itself. This prize was established long after the others, in 1969, and I wonder what prompted the decision. Why was economics considered a more important pursuit than, say, art or music or architecture? Or psychology or sociology or astronomy?

Economics is not, and never will be, an art or a science. Of course, it's important to understand some principles of finance and trade, to know where money comes from and where it goes and how it's used. But in a world that is more complex than ever, and changing faster than ever, we can hardly hope to quantify economic patterns any more then we can hope to control them. A hurricane, a war, a new invention.....and we have to abandon our precepts and re-evaluate everything.

So, while chemistry, physics and medicine are substantial pursuits with tangible results, economics is more or less an intellectual exercise. Quite simply, I prefer a test tube or a cyclotron or a bunch of stem cells to a spreadsheet or a graph.

I like good books and sincere peace-makers even more. Ever since 1901, when the prizes were first awarded, scores of excellent writers have been honored. And so have dozens of people and groups that have worked in various ways towards peace. (During both World Wars, understandably, the Peace Prize was suspended, except for two awards to the Red Cross. Nobody else qualified during those dark years.)

Looking over the lists of winners past and present, I was struck by a great revelation: None of the winners are young -- really young -- 20 or 30 or even 40. This year, in fact, Doris Lessing became the oldest laureate, at 88, only to be displaced a few days later by Leonid Hurwicz, a Russian-born economist who just turned 90.

This is heartening news for all us baby boomers and senior citizens! Our best work is not done straight out of college or graduate school. Our brains do not wither away with each passing decade. Our neurons do not shrivel up from too much information and experience. Quite the contrary.

All these elderly prize-winners (you can check out their ages) are surely better role models for our kids than our bird-brained Botoxed celebrittantes, who will never win anything more notable than 15 minutes with Jay Leno or a cover shot on Vanity Fair.

Eventually, whether we deserve it or not, we will all get our 15 minutes of fame. But meanwhile, let us humbly honor these Nobel men and women for their exceptional achievements, and for their long and noble lives.