Understanding Wisdom : Sources, Science, and Society

Brown, W. S. (2000) Philadelphia: Templeton Foundation Press

Evidence of Wisdom can be seen in both perception and performance, in sacred scriptures and brain images.  An eminent group of scholars from fields as diverse as theology, philosophy, medicine, biology, psychology, and linguistics were brought together byt he John Templeton Foundation to bring focus to this understudied area of scientific research.

An interdisciplinary book on wisdom that is divided into three parts: sources of wisdom, spiritual and otherwise; the science of wisdom on the evolution of moral capacities, the response to beauty and the role of expertise in wisdom; and the learning of wisdom, which considers the ways that wisdom can be learned, for instance in memorization of proverbs and emotional maturation. Although there are different definitions of wisdom, they all refer to some special depth and quality of understanding and ultimately to the underpinning of life itself. The fact that the sage is not at the center of Western culture means that its center is other than in wisdom. The book represents a real advance in bringing wisdom onto the educational agenda.

Editor Warren Brown presents his research on brain functioning, drawn from observing individuals with damage to specific neural areas, to suggest the importance of integration between hemispheres of the brain to comprehend complex situations in a way that may be termed “wise.” Diana Van Lancker also looks at hemispheres of the brain and explores studies that show that left brain functioning is related to prayers, chants, and sayings often used in religious practice.

Wolfgang Mieder, recognized as the foremost scholar in the study of proverbs, explores the secular use of the Biblical proverb of “A house divided against itself cannot stand” (Matthew 12:25). R.E. Clements also looks to the Book of Proverbs and focuses on its ultimate goal: virtue and wholeness.

The study of wisdom is challenging and thought provoking. This volume sheds light on the age-old question: What is wisdom and where does it come from? This book is an important contribution to defining this field of study.


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