EBW Dispatches: The New Science of Practical Wisdom

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.



EBW Dispatches - The New Science of Practical Wisdom



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.

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Abstract



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.



Overview



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


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Contributors



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.



Companion Animation



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.



Reference



The paper is published in the Spring 2019 issue of the journal Perspectives in Biology and Medicine by Johns Hopkins University Press, and can be found here.


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If you have any thoughts about the dispatch, please get in touch.

You can contact me at charles@evidencebasedwisdom.com, via the about page or find me on twitter @EBasedwisdom.

Charles