Compassion. Self-understanding. Morality. Emotional stability.
These words would seem to describe at least some of the universal traits attributed to wisdom, each of them broadly recognized and valued. In fact, there is no enduring, consistent definition of what it means exactly to be wise. It is a virtue widely treasured but essentially unexplained, a timeless subject only now attracting rigorous, scientific scrutiny.
In 2009, Dilip V. Jeste, MD, and Thomas W. Meeks, MD, both professors in the department of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego and researchers at the Sam and Rose Stein Institute for Research on Aging, published a paper proposing that sagacity might have a neurobiological basis.
In other words, that wisdom is wired.
In the June issue of The Gerontologist and currently online, Jeste and Meeks go further, attempting to identify the central, unifying elements that define wisdom. With colleagues from four other universities, Jeste and Meeks asked a group of international experts to characterize the traits of wisdom, intelligence and spirituality and measure how each trait is either similar to or different from the others.
"There are several major definitions of wisdom, but no single definition that is all-inclusive and embraces every important aspect of wisdom," said Jeste, who is the Estelle and Edgar Levi Chair in Aging, professor of psychiatry and neuroscience and chief of geriatric psychiatry at UC San Diego. "Intelligence and spirituality share features with wisdom, but they are not the same thing. One can be intelligent, yet lack practical knowledge. Spirituality is often associated with age, like wisdom, but most researchers tend to define wisdom in secular terms, not spiritual."
The research consisted of a two-part survey and a questionnaire comprised of 53 statements related to the concepts of wisdom, intelligence and spirituality. Fifty-seven experts w
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University of California - San Diego