Guesses about wisdom

Recently, the term ‘wisdom’ caught my eye multiple times, so I tried to clarify for myself what it means to me (and so I’m extending my old DIK post of 2005 to DIKW).

The term occurred in diverse contexts and senses:

  • as opposed to knowledge here on Mastodon,
  • as a gift which, like wealth and other powers, calls for moral accountability, here on Halfanhour,
  • as insight into the deepest structures and shapes of the universe, here by McGilchrist,
  • and as ‘wisdom of crowds’ here in a nice new ‘explorable explanation’.

1. In the Mastodon discussion, some definitions of wisdom seemed to me like just a higher level of knowledge, or like ‘meta’ knowledge, which I would rather call ‘critical literacies’: they depicted knowledge as simply knowing a googleable fact, and wisdom as something that is beyond that. But if this were true, everybody would have to be wise in the future — or else they would be displaced by artifical intelligences. Emergent knowledge based on long experience and intuition, will become more necessary but IMHO, it is not already wisdom.

Also, if knowledge cannot be transferred, or ‘told’, it is not already wisdom. Of course, wisdom cannot be told, but can it at least be taught? If teaching is Downes’s “to model and demonstrate”, this is certainly a useful prerequisite for developing wisdom, since we can sometimes recognize wisdom in other people even if we cannot describe it. But an important connotation of the term is, IMHO, that it takes a long time to develop wisdom. So, it is not for impatient teachers who expect an instant impact of their interventions.

In my understanding, wisdom grows very slowly, and it is often about what is really important, or actually, what is not important. For example, all the grumbling by the ‘wise’ wisenheimers who criticize everything but don’t offer an alternate solution — gradually becomes unimpressive.

2. By contrast, people who are wise enough to perceive their wisdom as a gift (and not as result of hard work that needs compensation), see their responsiblity.

3. McGilchrist, in turn, talks about the ‘path to wisdom’. And he likens it to how the hunter behaves (who “is careful, quiet, listening, attentive”). While this does not yet sound ‘left-brained’ to me, ‘Be a hunter of wisdom‘ (here) seems a bit misleading, because wisdom is not a target that can be shot, no more than happiness should be hunted for.

Furthermore, “insight into the deepest structures and shapes of the universe” is certainly a great thing, but it is so much entangled with fighting for truths about unknowable things, that I am not sure how important it should be to me. (Notwithstanding McGilchrist’s deep insight into the two modes of the brain, which are as important and fundamental to me as the flexors and extensors of the mind, i.e. relevant throughout everyday life.)

Another project of deep insight is currently undertaken by Dave Gray here (although he does not speak of ‘wisdom’ but of ‘level two’). His emphasis on ‘purpose’ can be seen as complemetary to the above ‘structures and shapes’, and while the latter might be seen as rather ‘right-brained’, the former is very ‘left-brained’. For me, wisdom seems more balanced.

A diagram showing 5 players, a button for launching the next match.

Screenshot of

4. In wisdom of crowds, finally, it is the aggregated knowledge of the many that creates the higher level, that cannot quickly be attained by a single human. And in a twin simulation here, it is the aggregation of many iterations of a trust game that leads a wise behavior — which, again, points to the long time that wisdom needs to be built.

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2 Responses to Guesses about wisdom

  1. jennymackness says:

    This article – an interview with McGilchrist – serendipitously sent to me by a friend yesterday – also seems relevant to this post –


  2. x28 says:

    Thanks for making me re-read this interview. Yes it is desirable to learn from other cultures.


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