Anecdotal data point from one who's old, by chronological criteria.
I can't say I feel wiser than I was at 25 or 50. Different, definitely. I'm still unclear what constitutes "wise".
But as I age, I increasingly see the degree to which phenomena are interconnected, and the knock-on implications regarding complexity and unanticipated consequences. It biases me to err in the direction of generosity and empathy.
Still, it would feel good to know what "wise" is. Not sure I'd recognize it if it bit me in the butt.
That said, go read Staudinger's paper (SciHub is your friend). Set a reminder to rethink these issues everytime your age doubles. You'll be interested in your results.
>as I age, I increasingly see the degree to which phenomena are interconnected, and the knock-on implications regarding complexity and unanticipated consequences
I think the same reasons that we have to thank for that we also have to blame for the fact that we are less easy to change our ways of modeling reality, both at the lower and the higher levels as we become older. In some ways we become more humble, in some other ways we are becoming more rigid. In practice I guess we are becoming better in modeling the world around us in those areas that have not changed too much, but at the same time we become less willing or able to revise our models drastically or create new ones, which would be a good thing in areas that have incurred some fundamental changes.
This accumulated "wisdom" often leads to choices and behaviors that cannot be rationalized by those younger, but it can be tricky knowing when that's a case of modeling a situation better and when it's a case of reading patterns that did not exist or missing/underestimating some important variables.
I think it is exciting but also a bit scary to see these changes happening to ourselves with age and trying to see how effectively we can identify and compensate for their negative side through awareness!
> But as I age, I increasingly see the degree to which phenomena are interconnected, and the knock-on implications regarding complexity and unanticipated consequences.
> Still, it would feel good to know what "wise" is.
I think that's a good partial definition of wisdom. I would add that at that point, life overall holds very few mysteries to you, people nor events in life don't shock-surprise you.
I don't think I'll ever consider myself wise :) Although sometime after 30 I started to see rather clear patterns in human behavior, what leads to what and what to (not) expect. So far all this experience is being reconfirmed over and over, with very few exceptions.
"I increasingly see the degree to which phenomena are interconnected and the knock-on implications regarding complexity and unanticipated consequences"
Sounds like textbook wisdom to me; a body of knowledge and experience you already have such that new information does not exist in isolation but is related to what you already know, allowing you to take knowledge and experience from past situations and phenomena and apply it to the new.
I like to think our innate and cultural sense of morality - e.g. fairness - derives from enlightened self-interest from "experience" over speciological time, unconsciously.
Unfortunately, there's a bunch of negative stuff that derives similarly - e.g. cheating - and, due to changing circumstances, the tradeoffs for all of it might not be in tune anymore - e.g. global consequences, intellectual property.
I've found that hardship seems to be the best at imparting wisdom. Several years out of college I don't think I was very different from the day I graduated, but then one day something happened to me and I was suicidally depressed for months and experiencing immense amounts of pain every day. When I came out the other side I was a different person.
People kept telling me: This is an opportunity. You can use it to grow if you want. I think I did, and I think it taught me that as much as it sucked, I gained something I would not have otherwise have had from the experience.
Using your anecdote (and my own personal experience) I would venture a guess that pain and suffering can change a willing person more than any other kind of experience.
I spent a long time ignoring discomfort (pain-light) in my life. When I started nosing into the discomfort, the pain, and the hard things, I started to change. I had to be willing to do it, though, be willing to face that I was wrong, acknowledging that even the criticisms I had of myself were wrong.
I have changed more in the last year than I have over the rest of my life. The change has been huge.
Yeah, stuff like thus makes the difference. Privileged people living protected lives, which luckily is the norm everywhere in first world countries by historical standards today, jusz don't have to think about hard life threatening stuff anymore. Which is good zhing. But it also leaves one unprepared for the moment something life threatening happens. When it does, and you liflve through it, you come out as a changed and hopefully wiser person.
I'm always thankful that I had a really hard time in high school and college (and spent a majority of my high school and college years working.)
I felt that when I graduated from college, I had a much easier time hunting for work than my peers. I also adjusted easily to startup hours, because they were still much less severe than the combined hours I had to put in for school on top of work to pay rent in college.
I’ve felt the same way in the last few years since college. Been a ‘similar’ situation but I can definitely tell that all this time I’ve spent working on myself, reading philosophy, etc is just starting to pay off.
Not saying it’s ideal but trying to learn as much as you can when you’re in a hard place might help you out.
It's experience that matters. An elder person with less exposure to different situations may not be able to offer good advice in general, but ask them about their own specific niche on which they've spent a lot of time, and you'll be amazed at the wisdom there.
I've definitely seen older folks who are so convinced that their specific experiences are the only valid ones that they are unwilling to entertain alternative (and sometimes better) experiences. I think experience is important, but knowing when/where to apply it, and being willing to admit that your experience may not be the best, is required.
And I've definitely seen young people so convinced older people have it wrong without understanding the nuance of situations. It's easy to give a simple solution when you over-simplify the problem.
People need to be open minded to other people's experience and ideas. People need to be mindful that the best course of action rarely lies at extremes and having a broad understanding of a problem helps you arrive at a balanced solution.
The problem is that the majority of elderly are as average as the majority of youngsters. So finding ways to know which old people to listen to and which ones have just had their 50 years of horseshit training and confidence conditioning is hard. It’s a lesson in itself imo.
Listening to their experiences is a pretty easy way. If they have a bunch of experiences you don't have they're likely to have a perspective worth reflecting on. As a bonus, listening to people makes them like you, too.
The point is no one is average by definition. If you acknowledge the contextuality of wisdom then you’ll find a lot more of it out there than if you assume only a few elite outliers have useful knowledge and perspective.
I acknowledge the contextuality of wisdom but I also acknowledge that making the same mistake 20 years in a row doesn't make you any wiser - it just makes you find new ways to justify making them over and over again.
You don't seem to come from a poor background if you think that wisdom always bring good.
Negative experiences spanning decades of your life will make you contempt with the false truths. And you will never agree it's not the case because it's so hard to believe all of your suffering was for nothing.
Agreed. This also cuts both ways; usually if something exists or is believed, it came about to be that way for a reason that is not always 'just because' or malicious. Which is why I get a little skeptical when some startups promise a world of disruption and end up, say, reinventing the bus: https://www.pedestrian.tv/tech/very-innovative-silicon-valle...
It's not about experience. A significant proportion of the population is always going to parrot stock talking points with no independent thought.
Which is why there are entire industries dedicated to making sure that the talking points they parroting don't inconvenience the political and financial interests of the stockholder class.
The myth that democracy and policy appear by magic out of a nation of proud independent thinkers who rationally weigh evidence on the basis of information, logic, and a solid liberal education is absolute nonsense. That's simply not how it works - and the media (and ad) industries know this. So does the political class.
They also know that it's important to maintain the illusion, because people are far more likely to argue - and vote - passionately from a position of pliably expedient ignorance if they believe they're sovereign sages, than if they understand that they've been conned and lied to.
The same applies to corporate culture. Every culture has its convenient mythologies and its hard reality. In some cultures the two are observably close, in others they might as well be on different planets.
But it's important to create and propagate a mythology so that everyone at least knows what they're supposed to be believe.
These narratives are usually unconscious, but they reliably shape actual behaviour far more than any rational assessment of reality does.
Well they were adults during the whole process. Climate change was starting to get some attention back in the 80's at least, and there were definitely warnings in the 90's. Not nearly as severe or conclusive ones, but still.
It's worth noting that old people have seen many popular scientific truths come and go. The food pyramid, for example, has killed literally millions of people with terrible nutrition advice. Trusting the scientific community is a good basic model to go by, but it's understandable why people with more life experience may be more skeptical.
> The pyramid, for example, has killed literally million of people
I actually think you're just reflecting the currently vogue "common sense" view of carbs as the worst macronutrient. Neither this view, nor the view which produced the original food pyramid, is accurate. But saying the food pyramid has "killed literally millions" is incredibly hyperbolic. Starvation has killed literally millions. Cereals on the other hand, have literally been the most common dietary staples of most human diets for most of post-agricultural history.
> The first chart suggested to the USDA by nutritional experts in 1992 featured fruits and vegetables as the biggest group, not breads. This chart was overturned at the hand of special interests in the grain, meat, and dairy industries, all of which are heavily subsidized by the USDA.
Calling this the recommendation of the “scientific community” is ridiculous.
Yes, I'm well aware of the history of the food pyramid. It was in my science books in school. It was taught and talked about in the public sphere as if every expert on the planet agreed that the grain based food pyramid was undisputed among the scientific community. If that example is too far away for you, how about WMDs in Iraq. Do you remember how "every expert" said they existed and how if you were skeptical you were a national heretic?
You're missing my point in the same way the person arguing that the food pyramid wasn't valid science is missing the point. The food pyramid, Iraq WMDs, peak oil, and climate change all look exactly the same to the average citizen. If you're not a climate scientist yourself and you believe you can tell the difference, I'm skeptical of that. There is no category of argument you can make about climate change that was not similarly made for the food pyramid, WMDs, peak oil, etc. during their heydays. The way climate change is presented to the public is exactly the same way those previous scams were presented to the public.
FWIW, I am not a climate change denier.
Edited: removed something that unintentionally sounded like an insult.
Studies like this that try to pin or correlate a fundamentally changing, social concept like wisdom with precise quantitative fixtures are idiotic.
No matter the qualifications the authors might make to ensure their definition of wisdom is as empty and useless as that of a specific number, the grand claim of the study makes it sound as if they hadn’t even grasped that qualitative concepts are subject to change and depend upon the entire universe of conditions that impinge upon the concept’s users.
What we mean by wisdom today in 2018 and what, for example, the ancient Greeks or scholastics meant by wisdom is entirely different, such is the power, history, and blurry bounds of the concept—and the point of studying these concepts in such a quantitative fashion is refuted before it’s even made.
If you actually read, e.g., Socrates, you’ll find that his idea of wisdom is actually pretty consistent with the typical Western view. There’s some discrepancies, but the overall shape is the same. Look to Eastern cultures and there’s far greater difference (and perhaps even less agreement on what words should be translated as “wisdom,”) but there’s an obviously parallel concept.
Further, wisdom (like related “social” concepts) points at some thing or pattern in the “objective” world. That thing/pattern/what-have-you is, at least putatively, there, and will be there as long as there are humans to be wise/unwise- even if our idea of it is lost, and even if the idea was an arbitrary division of the universe.
And even further, there’s nothing stopping these researchers from making an operational criterion that matches the arbitrary definition of wisdom we have right now and finding something out about it. Even if humanity decides tomorrow that wisdom should actually mean something entirely different, knowledge about today’s “wisdom” was learnt.
Unless you can read ancient Greek, (which if so, I applaud you) you have to keep in mind that you're not reading "Socrates" (well, in any case you aren't, I assume you mean Plato, as Socrates never wrote anything), you're reading a painstaking translation of Socratic ideas into a modern parlance which, as vigilant and astute as the translators might be, is doubtless tinged with some word choices, re-structurings, and other elements that move the text more or less away from it's original form and meaning. In fact, these translation choices are often crucial. My copy of De Anima has a nice translator's introduction that explains the difficult decision to translate the Ancient Greek 'psyche' as "mind" even though it meant something much closer to "soul" so that modern audiences would find the text more palatable. This is a crucial gloss on the translation and radically modifies (or should) one's reading of the text. Unfortunately very few people read translator's introductions.
So, I'm not so confident Socrate's conception of wisdom was so similar to ours. In fact, I'd feel much more comfortable with the hypothesis that it contained more dissimilarities, considering the material conditions Socrates lived under were radically different than our own—in fact we deal with a whole region of concepts, historical events, and technologies Socrates could have never considered. Yet his concept of wisdom is supposed to nearly sufficiently cover ours? What of the commoner's practical 'wisdom' about matters of economic success in a global market? Surely, you'd argue, that isn't capital W wisdom—ah but then we're in the realm of philosophical debate about what kind of wisdom we're talking about and what really constitutes wisdom in the proper sense (notice how this has absolutely nothing to do with the inert misapplication of statistical analysis or scientific experimentation).
I'm not disputing that wisdom points to something objective. I'm claiming that the objective thing it points to is subject to the same movement of history, and thus change, as anything else. That's not to say societies can't agree on what the concept means, but it's necessarily fuzzy, and potentially even fuzzy and ill defined within the confines of small groups. It is an interpretive concept with an indeterminate reference (unless you're a nominalist that wants to perform several painful acrobatic stunts to try and argue that it points to something like "the collection of all referents participants assign to the term wisdom in a given context C at a given time T." Somehow we don't often find such analyses very interesting or useful).
I'd also argue it's not even clear what wisdom means now. Just look at all the different takes on it that have cropped up in this thread. Point is, you can only begin to get at the meaning and the proper study of these concepts dialectically (something Socrates excelled at, by the way), that is, through discussion and holistic approaches that attempt to account for entire horizons of meaning and social interaction. Taking a statistical approach to this issue, sure, may give us an interesting little factoid we can whip out over dinner, but we hardly walk away from the findings feeling we've actually gained any knowledge about the concept. In this sense it is a constituted objectivity—not something that inheres concretely in the world. It's reference, so to speak, is necessarily indeterminate.
It hardly even has any utility. Assume it is true. Hardly anyone will much appreciate an argument for or against a particular decision based on the idea that the relationship between wisdom and age tapers off at 20. Furthermore, it's so divorced from any context that to even bring it up would probably miss the point of the issue and seem, as I said, idiotic.
“The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.”
Having said that – once you learn about Ancient Greek and Roman civ, their culture, their mores, and what have you; once you learn the glosses for a number of key words and know the etymology of your average philosophical concepts and with a decent translation of Plato and Aristotle & co I think you're going to have a pretty accurate handle on things.
One of the interesting things about our era is that we don't as routine learn ancient Greek and Latin to read the classics. We've decided that's no longer necessary. I think that means that we're in a radically new era, a post-classical era – finally out their shadow. Tis another mark of the Age of Inflection as I call it.
I am not sure if I understand your criticism, but by virtue of not having access to time travel as of yet, most studies tend to be limited and in accordance to our current understanding of the world and humans.
While timelessness is an admirable virtue, lack thereof nonetheless does not render a study useless or idiotic, in my current understanding anyways.
This is off-topic, but some Heinlein quotes are gold. I grew up reading my dad's pulp sci-fi collection and Heinlein's work has definitely influenced my interests.
“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”
Exactly my question. When I look at common definitions of it, they all have some age-correlated feature, like experience. My first guess is that they're using a definition that doesn't match the average-person understanding of the term.
I can see this, but I feel like it would depend on the person. Some people constantly learn and improve as they grow older and those people become wise as their life goes on. Other people just do not ever learn, so why would they be wise when they are old?
Most people definitely become wiser with age. Maybe the results are skewed because millennials are a particularly wise generation which have to deal with increasingly complex social, economic and environmental problems and this forces them to think more and ask more questions. Also, the internet has given millenials a big advantage in terms of finding information. It's not fair to compare one generation with another completely different generation; we need to track people from the same generation over a long period of time in order to get meaningful results.
This study is from 1999, before the internet as we know it, and long before children walked around with smartphones in their pockets. Its also very clear from you answer that you are a young person. I wonder if your answer will change when you are 75?
I think it's because the wise live longer. Even if they are declining, the average tends to stay the same.
Wisdom is mostly about paying attention and adapting, not all about accumulating experience, as new things keep coming and rendering much of your experience (with things, not with people) irrelevant. It's complicated.
I think wisdom helps you live your life successfully and avoid unnecessary risks. And avoid Darwin awards. Not understanding how things work can get you killed. Or you can die younger from smoking, drug abuse or not eating your vegetables.
The alternative is thinking that choices don't affect how long you live and I don't think that makes sense.
Plus ça change, the better it has been said before:
In philosophy, anamnesis is a concept in Plato's epistemological and psychological theory that humans possess innate knowledge (perhaps acquired before birth) and that learning consists of rediscovering that knowledge within us.
Eh, I'd distinguish "wisdom" from "knowledge" in this example. This 20 year old might know a lot more about this trail, and thus be "better" at driving it, in a technical sense.
At the same time, a wise person would approach the undriven trail, and apply what they have learned about driving, unfamiliar terrains, risk balancing, etc. to the experience of driving it. Maybe they'd even decide, "Screw this, I'm running late and want to go have some beer instead."
In the end, who did it better? Maybe it doesn't matter, but I see wisdom as the ability to apply hard-won experience to novel situations.
I can't. It isn't simple. And certainly to me, doesn't justify the catchy "assumption-challenging" title of the paper, which appeals to an obviously informal definition of the term.
In our work, we proceed from a theoretical conceptualisation of wisdom as expert-level knowledge and judgement in the fundamental pragmatics of life. Note that the term wisdom is reserved to denote only the highest levels of performance. Lower performance levels are labelled as wisdom-related. Knowledge (in its widest sense, cf. Polanyi, 1958) in the domain, fundamental pragmatics of life, entails insights into the quintessential aspects of the human condition
and human life including its biological boundaries, cultural conditioning, and intra- as well as interindividual variations. At the centre of this body of knowledge and its application are questions concerning the conduct, interpretation, and meaning of life (for a more detailed description see Baltes et al., 1992; Staudinger & Baltes, 1994).
We have outlined a framework of five criteria (see Table 1) that can be used to evaluate the quantity and quality of wisdom-related knowledge and judgement contained, for instance, in individuals’ verbal responses to difficult and uncertain problems of life. This approach to the psychological study of wisdom received empirical support in a series of studies with regard to reliability and some indication of predictive and external validity
(Baltes, Staudinger, Maercker, & Smith, 1995; Smith & Baltes, 1990;
Smith, Staudinger, & Baltes, 1994; Staudinger, 1989; Staudinger, Smith, &
Baltes, 1992; Staudinger, Lopez & Baltes, 1997; Staudinger, Maciel, Smith
& Baltes, 1998a).
An example of a test question is: "somebody gets a phone call from someone about to commit suicide, what should they do?"
I'd say it means attitude and capability to observe whatever (circumstances and people especially) under numerous angles (especially including those the majority of people won't consider) and react constructively. Properly integrated experience ("lessons learnt") together with mindfulness, emotional and fluid intelligence are the major resources for this.
Well, the problem is that these are researchers claiming to have empirical evidence relating to wisdom. Their precise definition of the term matters if you want to understand what they're actually saying.