Is THIS wisdom:?

In the antechamber of the ancient Shrine of Apollo at Delphi, there are engraved injunctions: to

know thyself

and on the opposite wall is the motto,

nothing in excess


 philo – sophia: “The love of wisdom”

but how is this manifest? can such love be learned? invented? discovered?

Love is connected to deep knowledge (Goethe*) but knowledge alone is not wisdom. Perhaps love is necessary but not sufficient.

A recent efforts to organize knowledge about wisdom led to the following:

“Because of the long and diverse intellectual history of wisdom, scientists could pick and choose definitions. Whereas some scientists followed Platonic and Aristotelian ideas, others borrowed from Buddhism, Hinduism or Taoism – promoting [holistic versus analytical] worldviews that relate to the environment in quite different [cultural contexts] if not opposite ways. Some researchers sidestepped philosophy altogether, reserving the label ‘wisdom’ for the mature level of adult development. [= being all one can be, sensu Maslow’s “self actualization”?] 

The scientific approach to wisdom has started to gain momentum only in the past few decades, around the time the world started to face rising social and climatic instabilities. Some worried that this momentum was leading to an abyss. Picking and choosing different philosophical traditions and developing theories without serious debate between them placed wisdom scientists at the beginning of the 21st century at loggerheads: a field full of words didn’t yet share the same language. A recent handbook of wisdom included as many definitions of the concept as there were chapters. Like in a tower of Babylon, scholars were risking a collapse of a slowly emerging scientific field.”   (from Igor Grossmann (2020) The science of wisdom.  AEON 2020. https://aeon.co/essays/how-psychological-scientists-found-the-empirical-path-to-wisdom

The A&O gloss on the excerpt above implies that WISDOM is less a culturally endorsed general standard of adaptive or problem-solving insight than a means of attaining and manifesting an individual’s fullest expression of personal insight in a  given situation.  This speaks to WISDOM as a kind of SELF-ACTUALIZATION, but in harmony WITH ONE’S ENVIRONMENT… selectively attending those elements with which you resonate (see MC Richards’ excerpt below)

The potter, MC Richards wrote, 


“But the trouble was that though the work absorbed my mind, it used very little else. And I am by now convinced that wisdom is not the product of mental effort. Wisdom is a state of the total being, in which capacities for knowledge and for love, for survival and for death, for imagination, inspiration, intuition, for all the fabulous functioning of this human being who we are, come into a center with their forces, come into an experience of meaning that can voice itself as wise action.


It is not enough to belong to a Society of Friends who believe in non-violence if, when frustrated, your body spontaneously contracts and shoots out its fist to knock another man down. It is in our bodies that redemption takes place. It is the physicality of the crafts that pleases me: I learn through my hands and my eyes and my skin what I could never learn through my brain. I develop a sense of life, of the world of earth, air, fire, and water — and wood, to add the fifth element according to Oriental alchemy — which could be developed in no other way. And if it is life I am fostering, I must maintain a kind of dialogue with the clay, listening, serving, interpreting as well as mastering. The union of our wills, like a marriage, it is a beautiful act, the act of centering and turning a pot on the potter’s wheel; and the sexual images implicit in the forming of the cone and opening of the vessel are archetypal; likewise the give-and-take in the forming of a pot out of slabs, out of raw shards, out of coils; the union of natural intelligences: the intelligence of the clay, my intelligence, the intelligence of the tools, the intelligence of the fire.”


– MC Richards ((1989:74 in Centering in Pottery, Poetry, and the Person, Wesleyan University Press)


On what is WISDOM based?

“The endless cycle of idea and action, Endless invention, endless experiment, Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness… Where is the Life we have lost in living? Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?” (from the opening chorus of The Rock, by TS Eliot, The Rock 1934

How does this resonate with “An expert learns more and more about less and less…”  (Quote Investigator)

(then look at the organizational pyramid for data-informationknowledge-wisdom at TS Eliot and the Pyramid of Organisational Knowledge)



The idea of CENTERING speaks to WISDOM as a kind of SELF-ACTUALIZATION, but in harmony WITH ONE’S ENVIRONMENT (including one’s inner environment) … selectively attending those elements with which you resonate.   (There is an opening to allow some measure of control when you recall that the inner environment is significantly affected by its representation of the outer environment)


see A&O note on WISDOM


How is WISDOM related to LOVE?  Our oft’ recalled idea in A&O:  Goethe wrote, “A man doesn’t learn to understand anything unless he loves it,”[i]  –But is the fullest understanding beyond us?  “We love only what we do not wholly possess.” (On n’aime que ce qu’on ne possède pas tout entier.”—Marcel Proust). 


An implication of this sentiment is that many people who resist undertaking tasks they are sure they cannot complete may be encouraged to know that the task can never be completed–as in the idea of the horizon always receding as we approach it. 


(connection addicts: you might enjoy following up this idea with that of the event horizon. and then playing with the  countless metaphors the pursuit of insight in this area involves – when one resonates with you, time to relax and let preverbal cognition take the wheel for a while.  About the “taking the wheel” metaphor, remember  “you are driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” (EL Doctorow’s observation)



[i]. Man lernt nichts kennen als was man Liebt (Goethe in einem Brief an Jacobi, 1812)]

GLOSS sensu Merriam-Webster, noun, sense 1a


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