(This article appeared in the New Worker – the newspaper of the New Communist Party of Britain [NCPB], no. 1779, dated 13.6.14, Pages 6-7)
In the 21st century, with the ever deepening process of globalisation and the development of information technology, human society is facing new and challenging problems. Due to the unprecedented complexity of these problems, a superior (and outstanding) wisdom is required. However, as the development of information is at its height, knowledge can be retrieved at anytime. The rapid development of science and technology has led to unprecedented material growth, and this inturn has led to an accelerated rate of development of education in modern society. There is now an urgent need to develop the subject of Wisdom Studies so that society can benefit fully from its presence.
(Zhangjiagang Wisdom Studies Declaration – 2013)
The human brain, through its capacity to think, analyse, assess, and logically organise, has given birth to two great outpourings of the intellect, namely religion and secular science. The former is represented by a mixture of imagination and environmental observation, whilst the latter abandons a priori the requirement for imagination, and strictly limits itself purely to the observation of natural processes. Although now perceived as two very different entities, which of course they are, religion and science have shared, to a lesser or greater degree, the capacity to generate ‘wisdom’. The concept of generating wise thoughts is signified by the ability to produce optimum psychological functioning that simultaneously combines the observation of the environment, with specific inner cognitive processes. In the case of religion, the various phases of environmental change, such as the passing of the seasons, weather conditions, natural catastrophes, the cycle of life, and conflict, etc, are used to reinforce the inner generation of religiously significant imagery. Whereas in the case of modern science, the environment is not just passively observed by a human mind standing in awe of its presence, but is dynamically ‘measured’ and ‘understood’ by a mind that actively seeks to reduce and remove imagination from the empirical process of information gathering. Both religious systems and modern science signify the development of the human mind (and its capacity to be ‘wise’) at various stages of its cognitive evolution, but it is interesting to note that ‘wisdom’ as a distinct capacity, appears to have been a prominent biological and physical attribute of humanity generated through the constant environmental pressures with regards for the need to survive as a species.
When wisdom is interpreted in this manner, it becomes a perennial capacity that has accompanied human evolutionary development, but the origin of which most likely lies in humanity’s pre-human ancestry. As soon as a functioning brain is aware of the environment, (and its place within it), perception is transformed from subject-object dichotomy to a subject-object-other perspective. In other words, from a strictly two dimensional, instinctively governed existence, to a three dimensional awareness that is able to ‘think’ beyond, round, and through its otherwise powerful instinctive programming. This is wisdom as self-awareness. As a capacity of thought generation and thought organisation, wisdom has had the task of formulating contingent responses to inner and outer stimuli, that is information derived from the experience of psycho-emotional and psycho-physical states of being. Wisdom answers the question as to ‘what does this sensory information mean’? This is a continuous path of human evolution that has no end, as it is an unfolding process of the continuous refinement of the observation and understanding of inner and outer processes. From this process has emerged the modern science that has benefitted the planet, albeit in an asymmetric manner due to the difference in socio-economic development around the globe. The wisdom manifest by those who live in economic poverty is of a more organic nature than those who exist in economically advanced societies, and whose wisdom is routinely augmented by technological assistance. In a poor country, the apex of wisdom may manifest as the ability to grow crops effectively and make obsolete machinery function despite a lack of spare parts or replacements, etc, whereas in a rich country, advanced wisdom builds space-rockets and devises ever more effective medicines, etc.
Wisdom is a human-wide phenomenon that is not linked to any one culture, ethnic group, or society, and it is clear from the observation that many great civilisations, such as the Egyptian, Chinese, Indian, Babylonian, Greek, Roman, Inca, Mayan, North American Indian, Celtic, and Modern European, amongst many others, have produced cultures and architectural constructs that contain an obviously advanced quota of developmental ‘wisdom’. This is why it is significant that on the 10th of December 2013, a group of eminent Chinese academics issued the Zhangjiagang Wisdom Studies Declaration, which simultaneously recognises the importance of the study (and development) of the theory of wisdom research, and the founding of the International Wisdom Society (IWS). This is an important recognition that will see the subject of wisdom studies advance and gain a greater depth of understanding. In recent years, knowledgeable people, both inside China and abroad, have started paying attention to this issue, and have begun to promote awareness of the emerging academic discipline of Wisdom Studies. In the United States, first there was the famous Psychologist Robert J. Steinberg who led a group of scholars in a spontaneous research programme in Wisdom Studies. Following this, there was the development of Wisdom Studies carried out at the University of Chicago. In Europe there is the ‘Berlin Wisdom Paradigm’ which has a group of Wisdom Study researchers. In China during the last 50 years of the 20th century there was the famous educator Luo Jia Lun who considered the relation between wisdom, learning, and knowledge. He produced a penetrating analysis of the three inter-related subjects.
The famous scientist named Qian Xue Sen, (as far back as the mid-1990’s), proposed a ‘Great Compendium of Wisdom Studies’ school of thought. In the 21st century, the famous educator Gu Ming Yuan, the President of the Chinese Association of Education, developed the academic subject of Wisdom Studies. Within China there has been the development of the Chinese Wisdom Project Research Council, together with the emergence of the International Chinese Wisdom Society in Hong Kong, as well as the Zhangjiagang City Wisdom Studies Project, and other similar academic institutes. As a consequence there have been a number of important academic conferences held, and many pioneering papers published on the subjects of wisdom, learning, and knowledge, which has led to the development of a practical curriculum designed specifically for Wisdom Studies. The academic brothers Zhang Qing Lin and Zhang Qing Song are credited with designing and implementing the first ‘Learning Wisdom in College’ courses, which have achieved many important results.
However, whether in China or the United States of America and despite the fact that leaders in both countries clearly advocate the development of wise thinking amongst the people, it has to be acknowledged that Wisdom Studies (and the ability to ‘think’ wisely) is an acquired skill, and that there must be appropriate planning if it is to be made socially acceptable and relevant to the masses. In this regard, Wisdom Studies remains in its initial stage of development. However, the fact that there are now ‘Wisdom Cities’, ‘Wisdom Tourism’, and ‘Wisdom Study Schools’ serves to illustrate the success of the project, and the willingness of people to embrace wisdom. In fact intelligence is the facility people use when choosing their words and actions – and it can be said that Wisdom Studies encourages the development of a clearer (and superior) thinking process. Wise thinking can be used to tackle the most difficult of problems with an innovation that is capable of producing new inventions. Amongst the workers, the use of wise thought is the foundation of the generation of all productive forces.
For further information regarding the International Wisdom Society:
RHACS – International Wisdom Society