The EBW Dispatches Series reports the latest developments from the frontline of wisdom research. Key findings are highlighted and illuminated – with a little help from the researchers themselves. The relevant papers can be found at the end of the dispatch.
THE NEW SCIENCE OF PRACTICAL WISDOM – A Collaborative Paper
Introducing the science of wisdom research to the broader academic community
In June 2018, University of California San Diego’s Center for Healthy Aging hosted the Wisdom, Compassion, and Longevity Symposium. On the second day of the symposium, USCD’s Dr Dilip Jeste, Senior Associate Dean for Healthy Aging and Professor of Psychiatry and Neurosciences, gathered a team of leading academics – including neurologists, psychiatrists, anthropologists, psychologists, moral philosophers, and epidemiologists – to produce a paper entitled ‘The New Science of Practical Wisdom’.
The aim of the joint paper was to introduce the science of wisdom research to the broader academic community. Evidence-Based Wisdom was invited to help write the paper, and the piece has now been published by Johns Hopkins University Press in the journal Perspectives in Biology and Medicine.
The abstract of the paper is as follows:
‘Wisdom has been discussed for centuries in religious and philosophical texts. It is often viewed as a fuzzy psychological construct analogous to consciousness, stress, and resilience. This essay provides an understanding of wisdom as a scientific construct, based on empirical research starting in the 1970s. The focus is on practical rather than theoretical wisdom. While there are different conceptualizations of wisdom, it is best defined as a complex human characteristic or trait with specific components: social decision-making, emotional regulation, prosocial behavior (such as empathy and compassion), self-reflection, acceptance of uncertainty, decisiveness, and spirituality. These psychological processes involve the fronto-limbic circuitry. Wisdom is associated with positive life outcomes including better health, well-being, happiness, life satisfaction, and resilience. Wisdom tends to increase with active aging, facilitating a contribution of wise grandparents to promoting fitness of younger kin. Despite the loss of their own fertility and physical health, older adults help enhance their children’s and grandchildren’s well-being, health, longevity, and fertility—the “grandmother hypothesis” of wisdom. Wisdom has important implications at individual and societal levels and is a major contributor to human thriving. We need to place a greater emphasis on promoting wisdom through our educational systems from elementary to professional schools.’
Wisdom is associated with positive life outcomes including better health, well-being, happiness, life satisfaction, and resilience.
The paper is broad and interdisciplinary in scope, including contributions from neurologists, psychiatrists, anthropologists, psychologists, moral philosophers, and epidemiologists. The following topics are covered in the paper:
1: Defining Wisdom
2: Measuring Wisdom
3: The Biology of Wisdom
A Putative Model of the Neurobiology of Wisdom
Charting the Evolution of the Wise Brain
Grandparent Genes and Population Resilience
4: Wisdom, Context & Culture
The Power of the Situation
Wisdom and the Meaning of Life
5: Wisdom & Aging
Older and Happier?
Wisdom and Adversity: The Tragedy and Opportunity of Trauma
Wisdom-related Neuroplasticity of Aging
6: Wisdom & Health
Learning from Other Communities: Centenarians in Cilento
7: Building Wiser Societies
Wisdom & Compassion Training
Using Technology Wisely
Gross National Wisdom? Introducing a Wisdom Index
Wisdom as a Vaccine Against Three Modern Epidemics
The paper is the result of a collaboration between the following authors:
Dilip V. Jeste, MD, University of California San Diego – Co-first Author
Ellen E. Lee, MD, University of California San Diego – Co-first Author
Charles Cassidy, MPhys, Evidence-Based Wisdom – Co-first Author
Rachel Caspari, PhD, Central Michigan University
Pascal Gagneux, PhD, University of California San Diego
Danielle Glorioso, MSW, University of California San Diego
Bruce L. Miller, MD, University of California San Francisco
Katerina Semendeferi, PhD, University of California San Diego
Candace Vogler, PhD, University of Chicago
Howard Nusbaum, PhD, University of Chicago – Co-Senior Author
Dan Blazer, MD, PhD, MPH, Duke University – Co-Senior Author
The authors would like to acknowledge the support from the UC San Diego Center for Healthy Aging and the Sam and Rose Stein Institute for Research on Aging.
The authors would also like to thank all of our colleagues who attended the discussion session of the Wisdom, Compassion, and Longevity Symposium of the UC San Diego Center for Healthy Aging in June 2018: Drs. Hortensia Amaro, James Brewer, Shu Chien, Angela Diaz, Joel Dimsdale, Salvatore Di Somma, Lisa Eyler, Jay Giedd, Alana Iglewicz, Tracy Lustig, Bill Mobley, Ramesh Rao, Peter Salk, Nick Spitzer, and William Vega.
EBW has produced a companion animation for the paper, including audio interviews from several of the papers authors. The animation gives an overview of what was covered in the paper, just with fewer words and more pictures. Coming soon….!
We need to place a greater emphasis on promoting wisdom through our educational systems from elementary to professional schools.
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