I suppose it is a commonplace that wisdom comes with age.  I suppose that means foolish mistakes are made by the young.  Of course there is a sort of epistemological difficulty here.  How do you know?  You can never really know how wise another person’s choices are, because you don’t know quite what went into them.  And as for your own mistakes, you made them when you were younger.  That’s the only part of your life you know about anyway.

Still, the challenge to find out who is wise and at what age has been taken up.  (Older and Wiser? ECONOMIST vol. 403 no. 8779 April 7, 2012 page 91 reporting a study done by Igor Grossman of the University of Canada)  The results are not what catch my eye.  The method is of interest.  A group of people were given some situations and asked to discuss them.  They were then rated on “wisdom” evident in their discussion.  That would seem to cover the two “how do you know?” issues.  Wisdom was rated by their attitude toward five issues:

  1. Looking for ways to resolve conflicts.
  2. Willingness to compromise.
  3. Recognizing ones own limitations of knowledge.
  4. Realizing that there can be more than one way of looking at things.
  5. Accepting that things can get worse before they get better.

I have mentioned elsewhere that the Ten Commandments do not sound to me like commandments.  According to scripture, knowledge of good and evil was already very old.  And the omission of things like needless cruelty would seem to be a flaw – hardly likely if the “commandments” truly are meant to establish what is acceptable behavior.  What I think is that it is a covenant, and the last sentences are actually blessings.  The greatest blessing of all is to be a good person so the commandments are just a thumbnail sketch.  Still a lot of people think that it is a petty good sketch, something to measure oneself against.

So the five issues are a start.  (The book of Proverbs mentions seven pillars in the house of wisdom, but just what they might be seems a bit unclear.)

So how do I rate myself in the present enterprise of trying to get the scientific work about kinship and fertility to the world?  On 1) I cannot give myself any points.  I do try to be diplomatic.  I try to respect both sides of issues where there is conflict.  But I make no effort to resolve those conflicts. 

On 2) there is not much to compromise on.  Either somebody is going to take science into account or not.  Usually it seems that “not” is the favored choice here.  Maybe I should ask people to take the science seriously on days of the week starting with S or T and revert to their howling superstition on the other three days.  I doubt I do that.  No points.

As for 3), do I recognize the limitations of my own knowledge?  Hoo boy, do I ever.  I know a trifling, a teeny weenie amount about the issue.  Nothing could be more obvious.  So maybe I should get points for that.  On the other hand, I do not lace my comments with a lot of “of course I don’t really know’s” and “well it’s just a kind of a drift of the evidence.”  Most people seem absolutely sure of what I absolutely know is not the whole truth.  No points.

I do recognize 4) that there is more than one way of looking at things.  I get the same “other” way all the time.  But I don’t think that is what is really meant.  I think it should say, “There is more than one valid way to look at things.”  Well when you are dealing with a question of fact, then not all possible opinions are valid.  Truth trumps them all.  No points.

And on the final 5) point, things can get worse before they get better, all I can say is that I hope this is not one of those occasions.  Things are already gruesome beyond endurance.  No points.

Oh well.  Chalk me up as an utter fool.  But I knew that from the outset. 

There have been 51,007 visitors so far.

Home page