Welcome to ‘evidence-based wisdom’ – July 2015
I am starting a new online platform called ‘evidence-based wisdom’. It is for scientifically minded people who want to become wiser. Wisdom is considered to be the pinnacle of insight into the human condition and means to living a good life. No longer the exclusive domain of philosophy and religion, psychologists have recently started pulling the construct apart and putting it back together in a form that makes it accessible to all. I will be translating this new science of wisdom research into language and practical tools that people can use to become wiser and optimise their life experience.
Firstly, a few key questions and answers that may be helpful:
What is ‘evidence-based wisdom’?
‘Evidence-based wisdom’ is a term for scientifically determined knowledge about the psychological construct of ‘Wisdom’.
Why focus on wisdom?
We all want to live good lives. We all want to navigate life successfully. We all want to die happy, with confidence that we lived life well. We have brief lives and we want to get them right. Wisdom can be seen as the understanding and action that leads to optimal life experience. Pursuing wisdom is pursuing mastery or optimisation of the human experience. I realised a number of years ago, that what I wanted more than anything else is to master the human experience, to gain the understanding and take the action that leads to optimal life experience. Wisdom is the framework that guides us towards optimal life experience.
Why is wisdom an important construct to study?
The accumulation of knowledge does not automatically lead to the understanding of anything, let alone optimal life experience. Pursuit of happiness and wellbeing, whilst evidently worthy goals, can lead to an unrealistic and perhaps forced/limited/constrained view of life. Beyond knowledge or happiness, we find wisdom; a practical construct that allows the optimal navigation of life with all its gnarly conflicts, contradictions and uncertainties.
Can wisdom be studied scientifically?
Having studied Physics at Manchester University, I place great stock in the scientific method. I have avoided the fields of philosophy and theology in this endeavour. Fortunately, research into wisdom has recently taken a distinctly scientific turn.
What is wisdom and who’s to say?
For centuries, wisdom has been the preserve of philosophy and religion and has lacked rigorous definition. I find it helpful to think of it as the understanding and action that leads to optimal life experience. Buddhists think of it as the distinguishing of thoughts and deeds that contribute to authentic happiness from those that destroy it. Christians think of it as profound understanding of life granted by God. In the last 30 years or so, wisdom has made its way into science departments across the globe, particularly in Germany, the United States and Canada. Psychologists are finding that societies do share an agreed understanding and conception of wisdom. Wisdom is a construct composed of the following traits:
- Deep self-knowledge
- Social intelligence and life skills
- Broad compassion
- Emotional management
- Multi-model perspective-taking
- Uncertainty navigation
What can be gained from studying wisdom?
Psychologists have worked hard to reach an agreed framework to talk about wisdom. This then allows measures to be developed to assess the wisdom of individuals or specific actions. In turn, this enables us to identify wise individuals, which may help suggest ways that others can ‘become wiser’.
Can individuals ‘become wiser’?
It’s early days but two distinct paths seem to lead to growth in wisdom. Firstly, traumatic experiences. These seem to temporarily shatter your world view, providing an opportunity for your perspective to widen a little, hence you can become more tolerant, more at peace with uncertainty, more compassionate for others, more robust emotionally etc. Overall, you can become wiser. Secondly, meditation. A large component of wisdom is self-transcendence. Your attention and efforts are no longer limited to looking out for your own needs, rather they expand to include the good of all people. Meditation has been shown to increase empathy and compassion, hence it can lead to increased levels of wisdom.
What do you hope to achieve by studying wisdom? What would be a good outcome from this?
Ideally, we will find what traits or behaviours lead to higher levels of wisdom. This could then enable the development of therapies, programmes or interventions that can increase individuals’ levels of wisdom. Ultimately, we can help people master the human experience. A society composed of wiser individuals will be a wiser society.
Why not dive in right away? Click below to read about some of the key findings from wisdom research:
- Neurobiology of Wisdom – an outline of the brain areas active during behaviours considered to be sub-components of wisdom
- WICS – an outline of why wisdom must be synthesised with intelligence and creativity to prepare young people in education
- Exploring Solomon’s Paradox – self-distancing can lead to wiser decisions in human relationships
If you have any thoughts about evidence-based wisdom, suggestions of research papers that might be of interest or any other ideas about how to make the platform more helpful or effective, please get in touch. You can contact me via email or follow me on Twitter or Facebook.