WORD TO THE WISE: Top 5 talks on the Science of Wisdom

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Wisdom research tends to generate academic papers which can be somewhat heavy on technical language. This is inevitable wherever the scientific method is diligently applied. However, it’s also helpful to have the discipline explained in a more direct, human way from time to time. With this in mind, here are 5 essential talks from pioneers in this emerging field, sharing their perspectives on the rapidly developing science of wisdom.


Conversations on Wisdom – Monika Ardelt, Sociologist

Monika Ardelt, a Sociology professor from the University of Florida, is a leader in the field of Wisdom research. Here she outlines her much-celebrated three-dimensional wisdom scale (click here to read the recent post outlining the 3DWS or here to read her first paper on the same topic) and discusses the possibilities and pitfalls of social media as a tool for the development of wisdom. The interview was conducted as part of a new documentary film entitled ‘The Science of Wisdom’.

What is Wisdom? – John Vervaeke, Cognitive Scientist

John Vervaeke, a professor of Cognitive Science at the University of Toronto, outlines his cognitive model of wisdom. Which cognitive processes are taking place in the brain when we are being wise? This brief talk condenses a lot of big ideas into an all too brief 11 minutes. These ideas are fleshed out in more detail over 60 minutes in his talk ‘The Cognitive Science of Wisdom: Wisdom as Rationally Self-Transcending Rationality that Enhances Relevance Realization”, which you can watch by clicking here.

Improving Wisdom – Ursula Staudinger, Psychologist

Ursula Staudinger is Director of The Columbia Ageing Centre and a lifespan Psychologist. As well as having developed the much-celebrated Berlin Wisdom Paradigm with Paul Baltes in the 1990s, she has recently developed a new scale of wisdom measurement called The Bremen Measure of Personal Wisdom, which you can read about by clicking here. In this talk at the University of Chicago’s Wisdom Research forum, she talks about the future direction of wisdom research and the essential role neuroscience will have to play for the field to develop in the years ahead.

Wisdom and Successful Ageing– Dilip V Jeste, Neuroscientist

Dr. Dilip V. Jeste is Director of The Stein Institute for Research on Ageing at the University of California and a Neuropsychiatrist. He has published a number of papers detailing the neural activity associated with wise behaviours (click here and here to read more). In this talk he discusses common elements of wisdom throughout history, common elements of modern definitions of wisdom and further develops his perspectives on the neurobiology of wisdom and its implications for ageing.

Neuroenlightenment – John Vervaeke, Cognitive Scientist

Another talk from Professor Vervaeke of The University of Toronto. Here, he looks to the future, suggesting that modern technologies may in fact play a key role in enhancing wisdom. He further suggests that this enhanced wisdom may help us use technologies to build wisely, not foolishly, for the future.

Whilst such diverse perspectives afford a rich, multi-faceted understanding of wisdom, there is also a benefit in increased alignment within the field. In the words of Professor Ursula Staudinger at this year’s Wisdom Research Forum in Chicago ‘It is not by chance for instance that cognitive psychology and cognitive neuroscience have made so much progress in recent years. It’s because they have come to an agreement and they are studying phenomena using the same paradigms… I deeply believe in a need to join forces to make progress and it can only come from cumulative efforts.’

Wise words indeed.

Why not have a look at the following papers to read more about these branches of wisdom research?

Monika Ardelt

Wisdom and life satisfaction in old age (Ardelt, 1997)

Antecedents and Effects of Wisdom in Old Age: A Longitudinal Perspective on Aging Well (Ardelt, 2000)

Empirical Assessment of a Three-Dimensional Wisdom Scale (Ardelt, 2003)

Wisdom as Expert Knowledge System: A Critical Review of a Contemporary Operationalization of an Ancient Concept (Ardelt, 2004)

Self-development through selflessness: The paradoxical process of growing wiser (Ardelt, 2008)

Self-reported Wisdom and Happiness: An empirical investigation (Bergsma & Ardelt, 2011)

Ursula Staudinger

Wisdom: A Metaheuristic (Pragmatic) to Orchestrate Mind and Virtue Toward Excellence (Baltes & Staudinger, 2000)

Personal Wisdom: Validation and Age-Related Differences of a Performance Measure (Mickler & Staudinger, 2008)

Dilip V. Jeste

Neurobiology of Wisdom: a literature overview (Meeks & Jeste, 2009)

Defining and Assessing Wisdom: A review of the literature (Bangen, Meeks & Jeste, 2013)

If you have any thoughts about these talks, please get in touch. You can contact me via email or follow me on Twitter or Facebook.


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