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« How is the economy like a saucepan of water? | Main | Is it wise to perpetuate an addiction? »

January 21, 2008


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I think you have covered this elsewhere, but it's worth repeating: If we live in a society that rewards sapience (cleverness) rather than wisdom, how do we expect wisdom to arise?

Two areas of note come to mind. Academia clearly rewards cleverness rather than wisdom in its emphasis on specialization. So does the economic system. An inventor of an attractive cell phone reaps far more rewards than an inventor of a water pump or water purefication system suitable to a third world nation even though the latter might be making a far more profound contribution to human welfare.

George Mobus

Hi Trin.

One small correction (big actually). Sapience is what I am claiming is the underlying processing (if you will) basis of wisdom. Intelligence and creativity (as the psychologists normally think of these things) combined are the basis for cleverness.

You've summarized nicely the impact of selection for cleverness vs. wisdom. I peg the start of this pressure at the invention of agriculture. Steven Mithen has written about the effect that invention has had on the evolution of the mind for the past 10,000 years. He doesn't speculate on the de-selection of sapience, but he does point out how profoundly the need for owning a territory, protecting grain stores, and organizing work increased the emphasis on intelligence and creativity. Moreover, the time frames for solving those kinds of problems were short compared with the life history of an individual. And, of course, the need to work in the fields, doing more-or-less repetitive hard work tends to deemphasize the value of older persons' knowledge.

Anyway, I do think that humans have been evolving (genetic drift sense) away from sapience as the culturally co-evolved pressure for more cleverness has exploded.

Your example is so right on. We just don't value the things and processes (like teaching!) that could lead to better long-term decisions. And I don't necessarily mean value with more money (wages). I mean value with elevation and respect.

Oh well, just a crotchety old man complaining?



I'm pleased to see this insightful analysis. I've been quietly encouraging folks to think about decision-making as an expression of wisdom. It pleases me to see others working to make that link, too.

Assisting my elderly mother-in-law as her cognitive ability begins to decline has provided me with many sad demonstrations of the very high cognitive demands that our culture places upon us. As you stated eloquently, we've created a culture that's too complicated for many folks to understand adequately or to participate effectively.

Seeing the structure of that problem, and helping others to see it, seems an important step toward breaking out of it. So, thanks for this contribution.


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I thought it meant the capacity for wisdom, or discernment. Wikipedia does say, "usually defined as wisdom" but it follows with "since it is the ability of an organism or entity to act with judgment."


Interesting site, always a new topic .. good luck in the new 2011. Happy New Year!


Happy New Year! Happiness and success in 2011.

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