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For my edification, I am reading Stephen S Hall, Wisdom: from philosophy to neuroscience.(University of Queensland Press, 2010).

As a science writer, the author is particularly keen to explore potential new insights provided by the emerging neurosciences without jettisoning  more conventional understandings of wisdom. In fact, he conjectures, wisdom is a phenomenon that cannot really be grasped without standing back and appreciating the multi-cultural, multi-disciplinary, multi-faceted contributions of generations of human existence. One early observation, however, is that it is most often conveyed, not in the rarefied atmosphere of academia or sanctum, but among and within the human population at large.

Without daring to deign a definition, he does lay out some tentative principles associated with wise behaviour before launching into his investigation:

  • wisdom requires an experience-based knowledge of the world
  • wisdom requires mental focus, reflecting the ability to analyse and discern the most important aspects of acquired knowledge on a case by case basis.
  • wisdom requires mediating between conflicting inputs of emotion and reason, self-interest and social interest, instant rewards and future gains
  • wisdom expresses itself through a social vocabulary of interactive behaviour
  • wisdom is marked by a fundamental sense of justice and commitment to social well-being beyond the self
  • wisdom is able to defer immediate self-gratification to achieve the greatest amount of good for the greatest number of people.
Not a bad check list! We’ll see how it unfolds. Right now I would like to line it up alongside the text of the Beatitudes which comes up this Sunday. This text opens the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew’s distillation of the teaching (and the wisdom) of Jesus. Hall’s book provides an opening for discourse between wisdom anciently and newly discerned.
Incidentally, Stephen Hall blogs on wisdom right here.