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    What, about, wisdom
    Project: Polytopia


    As life in our world becomes ever more complex, there is an ever increasing pressure on us to accommodate this complexity. As Barry Schwartz indicates in his inspiring talk at TED 2009, we tend to increasingly oversimplify our interactions with the world and mold them into ready made and easily digestible patterns of stimulus- response that will save us such costly resources as critical thinking, reasoning, emotional sensitivity, tolerance towards views different from ours and more. Indeed it seems that one of the most serious maladies of modern times is that we have lost our confidence in the power and virtue of wisdom to provide viable responses to our everyday situations on the individual level as well as on higher organizational levels.

    We are deeply concerned about global warming, economical crises, dwindling resources, political corruption, violent conflicts and terrorism. It seems that we are almost compelled to describe these problems as arising in a world external to us and somehow (ridiculously so) independent from us, but they are not. These are not situations or events that can be thoroughly objectified as if independent from our perceptions, conceptions, beliefs, sensitivities and the general quality of our emotional and thinking processes as they become manifest in our interactions. On the contrary, the great and small existential riddles that we face are but reflections of the state of the human mind; the collective mind as well as the individual mind. In other words, many if not most of these existential riddles are rooted in ignorance, the neglect of wisdom that is.



    What is wisdom? How have we come to neglect it? And how could we possibly reinstate our trust in it? Wisdom begins where all conceptualizations and formal systems end. Wisdom, therefore will not easily give itself to the kind of conceptual discourse we find so effective and habitual in the way we usually think. As Barry Schwartz hints, wisdom is not part of any job description, it lacks function per se, it seems to be useless, but it is exactly this kind of uselessness that somehow makes everything else extremely useful and significant. Even in the light of modern evolutionary theory, wisdom seems to impart no immediate evolutionary advantage on its bearers. On a bit different perspective however, a clear evolutionary path can be drawn for the contemporary human mind: from being instinct oriented to being reason oriented; from being reason oriented to being wisdom oriented. And today, especially today, when our reasoning powers fail us, and they do, we can either transcend reason into wisdom or fall back to instinct.

    So, wisdom evades definition, seems quite useless and imparts no obvious evolutionary advantage. Yet, since the days of antiquity wisdom is treasured as man’s most precious resource. The Legendary Socrates explains to his friends and disciples that his pursue of wisdom overrides his fear of death. In fact, he argues that death may present better opportunities for him to pursue wisdom, and therefore it should be regarded as a good thing. In the epic story of the Mahabharata, Arjuna the hero is offered by Krishna, at the eve of battle, a choice between receiving the command over great armies of formidable warriors, or having Krishna (symbolizing the source of high wisdom) drive his chariot into battle unarmed. Arjuna chooses the company of Krishna and gives up the obvious advantage in the face of the immediate circumstances. With Krishna’s counsel of wisdom, he wins of course the mortal battle and meanwhile gains enlightenment as well.

    Barry Schwartz asserts that wisdom has to do with accumulating the unique and humane life experience we all gain and utilize when the rules, procedures and immediate interests that usually guide our lives fail to informs us how to respond to unexpected circumstances. He mentions a moral will and moral skills that involves both reasoning and emotion, empathy and intelligent improvisation. He certainly touches some good points here, yet it is quite clear that wisdom is something over and above the accumulation of life experiences, and even beyond the application of moral virtue in real life situations.

    'What is wisdom' is an exceptional question in that that its primary function is to be recursively asked and not necessarily to be answered in the manner that conventional ‘what’ questions are being answered. In terms of linguistic and semantic utility, wisdom is certainly a unique perhaps even unnatural term because it does not relate or communicate a specific content or even a state of mind. Instead, it invites conscious reflection, openness, and interconnectedness.

    ‘Invites’, perhaps is the most important word here because wisdom never presses, compels or necessitates, wisdom therefore is bred in freedom, in free minds that is. As such, wisdom is always, always an option. As to the qualities mentioned, these are three of the deepest mysteries of the mind. In realizing the depth of our interconnectedness with all life and beyond that, with the entire universe, an ever expanding insight (and significance) into our instance of existence is gained. Openness is a great mystery in that that it admits and allows the boundless unknown laying so very close to us, just beyond our habituated perceptions and self affirming concepts. Conscious reflection is the paradoxical (by definition) bridge or perhaps mirror between the local and the universal, between the finite and the infinite, between the here and everywhere, between now and ever.

    In the ever quickening race of the information age, it would seem that wisdom is becoming a kind of an anachronistic and eccentric hobby to be left behind till it fades into the obscurity of old myth. Wisdom is neglected because of the ever growing pressure for immediate response, immediate reaction, and immediate utility. However, as we approach extreme cortical activation accompanied by its revolutionary technological side effects, we also approach a limit beyond which we will no longer be able control or guide this explosion of intelligence and complexity. This limit, which we already sense, marks the end of the current evolutionary phase of the human mind and pronounces a transition into a possible next phase; an epoch of wisdom.



    Once upon a time in a more or less far future, at least in our temporal continuum, some intelligent entities being perhaps descendants of the race of men, will create a whole universe for the sole purpose of observing the intricate unfolding of a single ethical riddle, or maybe to resolve an aesthetic debate. In their wisdom they will know that nothing less than a whole universe may provide the proper circumstances for such an issue to significantly evolve, they will also know that no intentional intervention is possible once such universal setup is initiated. They will certainly know they can afford it, and the allowance naturally extended from such conscious affordance will seamlessly realize itself as universe impregnated with the infinite potential of life.

    Such thoughts, though being well beyond my comprehension keeps me awake. Not so much during the nights as during the days…

    Thu, Feb 19, 2009  Permanent link
    Categories: wisdom
    Sent to project: Polytopia
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    Holo     Thu, Feb 26, 2009  Permanent link
    A woodcutter sat down under a huge old tree by the roadside.
    His apprentice said,
    “Look at this tree. It is old and twisted.
    It is so full of knots no one can get a straight plank out of it.
    Why was such a useless tree ever created?”
    His master replied,
    This tree has more wisdom than you,
    that is why it will still be living
    when you are long dead and buried.
    Mariana Soffer     Wed, Apr 14, 2010  Permanent link
    -Many of us never get the chance to see how much the world opens up when we use the lens of wisdom to perceive it. Indeed, motivation is always the key. How much brighter this world would be if we had the wisdom to align our motives towards the collective consciousness, as opposed to trapping ourselves in self-interest!

    -Rules are necessary, yes. But to every rule there are a thousand exceptions. And unless there is a wise person that is in the position to make that exception, rules will stifle creativity, exceptionalism and above all individuality.

     
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