Who is this site for?
It is for people who are interested in the emerging Science and Psychology of Wisdom.
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. 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. 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.
“During the last two decades, researchers in the behavioral sciences have shown renewed interest in the ancient concept of wisdom, which has historically been considered the pinnacle of human development. A possible reason for this resurrection is a new emphasis on positive psychology. Wise people presumably possess many positive qualities, such as a mature and integrated personality, superior judgment skills in difficult life matters, and the ability to cope with the vicissitudes of life.”