This book describes what authors believe is the scientific approach to wisdom. The authors also intend to help people become wiser by explaining wisdom, its components, and how one could enhance it. Here are the key points:
Prosocial Attitudes and Behaviors. These include empathy, compassion, and altruism. What exactly do these terms mean? Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings and thoughts of another. Compassion involves translating empathy into helpful behavior. Altruism is opposite of egoism and refers to actions to help another person without expecting any external rewards. Can you put yourself in others’ shoes and do you want to help those in need? In psychology, there is a concept called “theory of mind,” which describes the ability to attribute mental states—beliefs, desires, emotions, knowledge—to both yourself and others. Theory of mind is essential to behaviors like compassion, where we often act out of a recognized connectedness with others.
Emotional Stability with Happiness. This is the ability to maintain self-control, while preferring positive feelings to negative ones. “Anger is a brief madness,” observed the ancient Roman poet, Horace. Few acts are done well when driven by unthinking passions.
Balancing Decisiveness with Acceptance of Uncertainty. The latter involves acknowledging that different but equally valid perspectives exist and that things can change, including one’s deeply held thoughts and beliefs, over time and with new knowledge, experience, and insights. It means recognizing that other people may have different beliefs, desires, intentions, and perspectives and that people with different belief systems need not be considered evil or unintelligent. But while we accept uncertainties in life and diversity of perspectives, one cannot sit on the fence too long or too often. One must act when action is called for, based on the information at hand, knowing that the decision could later prove to be the wrong choice. Deciding not to act is also a decision.
Reflection and Self-Understanding. These include insight, intuition, and self-awareness. Are you able to analyze yourself and your motivations, your strengths and weaknesses? Understanding oneself is much more difficult than people think.
Social Decision-Making and Pragmatic Knowledge of Life. These relate to social reasoning and the ability to give good advice, as well as share life knowledge and life skills. Wisdom not shared is wisdom not gained but lost.
Spirituality. It should be noted that spirituality is not the same as religiosity. The latter typically refers to organized or cultural systems of belief. Religion can be and often is spiritual in nature, but its practices vary considerably in societies and around the world. Spirituality is a more universal constant, a core human belief in something larger than the individual and the society. It leads to a feeling of humility as well as comfort in going beyond the stresses of everyday life. Spirituality can include religion, but it can mean and embrace much, much more.
The authors provide a somewhat interesting discussion about the structure of the human brain, its features learned from observation of individuals with impaired brain functionality, and the relation of age and behavior they consider wise. They also provide IQ-type tests supposedly measuring an individual’s level of wisdom.
Part l: What Is Wisdom?
Chapter 1: Defining Wisdom
Chapter 2: The Neuroscience of Wisdom
Chapter 3: Wisdom and Aging
Chapter 4: Measuring Wisdom
Part Il: Components of Wisdom
Chapter 5: Cultivating Compassion
Chapter 6: Emotional Regulation with Happiness
Chapter 7: Balancing Decisiveness with Acceptance
Chapter 8: Self-Reflection, Curiosity, and Humor
Chapter 9: Spirituality
Part III: Enhancing Practical and Societal Wisdom
Chapter 10: Becoming Wiser Faster
Chapter 1 1: Wisdom Boosters
Chapter 12: The Future of Wisdom
MY TAKE ON IT:
I think that an attempt at a purely scientific approach to wisdom and its acquisition is kind of unwise. Science is the method of developing intellectual tools for predicting the future, at least probabilistically. Wisdom is the human ability to optimize behavior to achieve the most effective balance between two contradictory needs of assuring survival: obtaining individuals benefits, even if at the group’s expense, vs. providing benefits for the group, even at the expense of individual well-being. I agree that such ability is changing with age and is malleable. However, I doubt that it could be the subject of adequate training, just because it is highly dependent on circumstances of life and such circumstances are always unique and unpredictable. Nevertheless, the catalog of behavior that correlates with high quality of life could be helpful for people who either do not have enough living experience or experienced a low quality of life.