In This Issue
In Memory and Dedication: Copthorne Macdonald
Are We Still Evolving? Essay by Chris Thomson
A Global Wisdom Culture by Alan Nordstrom
Reflections on Wisdom and Politics by Walter Moss
Wisdom of Dorothy Day
Review: The Happiness Project
Review: Redirect
Review: Imagine
Review: Willpower
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Tom Lombardo
Director of The Wisdom Page & the Center for Future Consciousness 

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Wisdom Page Updates
September, 2012

Wisdom: Past, Present, and Future


"Nature is not absolutely definitive except when frozen permanently and absolutely stiff (i.e. when Hell freezes over)." Alan Rayner 


Wisdom is frequently associated with the great sages of the past--with the deep insights and philosophies of ancient or classical times. Wisdom is our intellectual and spiritual heritage. 


Wisdom has also been connected with the present--with the capacity and mindfulness to be "in the moment"--to be fully appreciative and conscious of one's ongoing experiences.  


And yet still, wisdom has also been linked with the future--with the ability to thoughtfully and ethically choose the best course of action for what lies ahead of us. I have, in fact, identified wisdom as the highest expression of future consciousness. 


Finally, transcending time altogether, wisdom has been seen as awareness and understanding of "eternal" truths (be they religious or philosophical) and to view life, the universe, and everything, quoting Spinoza, "through the eyes of eternity." 


Of course, one could say that wisdom encompasses all of these perspectives. It is through the knowledge acquired from the past that we learn how to tune into the present and most effectively and sagaciously approach the future; out of such a trans-temporal mindset emerges an understanding of the big picture--of what is invariant and remains the same across time--perhaps transcending time. 


When I first began to read the writings of Copthorne Macdonald, one point he made that struck me, among many important ones concerning wisdom, was his argument that wisdom needs to reflect our best contemporary knowledge and understanding of the world and the universe at large. And if I turn to contemporary science, the deepest and most pervasive theme I see across all scientific disciplines is evolution. As Heraclitus argued, all is flow, but there is a "logos" to the flow. What science reveals is that this "logos"--this logic and pattern to the flow--is evolution. 


Consequently, the pursuit and realization of wisdom, as embodied within us, as beings of an evolutionary universe, needs to be seen "through the eyes of evolution." Wisdom, like everything else, is an evolutionary phenomenon, building on the past (our classical heritage-our foundations) but in a state of ongoing development and transformation that reaches out toward self-transcendence and the future. There is a directional "logos" to wisdom which is evolution. 


Cop, through The Wisdom Page, created a foundation and legacy of resources on wisdom-including writings highlighting our classical wisdom heritage, contemporary issues and challenges, how to "live in" and appreciate the present, and how to thoughtfully and ethically look toward the future. Adopting an evolutionary mindset, with the resurrection of The Wisdom Page and the Wisdom Page Updates, I see our central goal as to continually evolve our understanding of wisdom and to find new ways to apply this understanding to improving the quality of our own personal lives and more generally the world we live in, which I take to mean to contribute to the purposeful evolution of ourselves, humanity, and the world as a whole.   


Personally, I am partial to the concept of "flourishing" as an expression that not only captures the healthy exuberance and vitality of life but serves as an anchor for determining if we are evolving and if we are leading the good life. This is our testing ground: Are we flourishing? If we are students and advocates of wisdom and we live this spirit, it should follow that we will flourish as a philosophical community (the readers and writers of The Wisdom Page) and hence evolve. This, I see, is our commitment and our aspiration: Through the evolution of our own wisdom we will flourish and bring this positive and empowering spirit to the world.


I hope you enjoy reading the new items included in this first issue of the revitalized Wisdom Page Updates.  


Tom Lombardo


In Memory and Dedication: Copthorne Macdonald
Copthorne Macdonald, creator and director of The Wisdom Page, passed away in the winter of 2011. Cop was a dear friend and inspiring and supportive colleague. He possessed a deep understanding of both science and philosophy, as well as a personal presence and character that embodied the quality of wisdom. Indeed, Cop devoted the last couple decades of his life to the study of wisdom and the ongoing development of The Wisdom Page--the premier website for readings and other educational resources on wisdom.

When Cop passed away, the members of The Wisdom Page advisory board unanimously decided that his website, as well as his monthly newsletter the Wisdom Page Updates, needed to continue. The positive spirit and constructive momentum of his work was too important and valuable to be allowed to fade into oblivion. 

It is the desire of the advisory board to continue to grow and develop the website, to spread the word regarding this invaluable resource, and to advocate for the centrality of wisdom in realizing the good life for all of us. In fact, as members of the advisory board, we all believe that the pursuit and development of wisdom is key to a positive future for humanity. Cop, indeed, wrote extensively on the critical importance of wisdom for our future.


Acknowledging the vast repository of knowledge of our past, the inspiration and lessons of those who have thought about and pondered the ideal of wisdom--"standing on the shoulders of giants"---we will continue and expand upon the work of Copthorne Macdonald.


Are We Still Evolving? by Chris Thomson
An introductory essay on the
importance of further evolving
our consciousness and our
intelligence and the need to
redefine humanity's central
purpose through creating
of a new and liberating worldview. 

A Global Wisdom Culture: Essay, Poems, and Quotes by Alan Nordstrom
How can a Global Wisdom Culture be consciously envisioned, designed and then inculcated into human populations around the planet, superseding deeply-rooted customs and mores now deemed dangerous to Earth's thriving?

Reflections on Wisdom and Politics by Walter Moss
An erudite and thoroughly researched essay on those essential virtues and values supporting political wisdom, including discussions of realism and idealism (properly balanced), love, compassion, empathy, humility, tolerance, a sense of humor, creativity, temperance, self-discipline, passion, courage, and a commitment to
justice and freedom.

Wisdom of Dorothy Day (Updated) by Walter Moss

Walter Moss has updated his "Wisdom of Dorothy Day" essay. It is part of the Profiles of Wisdom series, which also includes his essays on the wisdom of Carl and Paula Sandburg, Andrei Sakharov, E. F. Schumacher, and Anton Chekhov, as well as essays by him and Alan Nordstrom on the wisdom of W. H. Auden, Shakespeare, and others. The primary reason for Moss's update was his desire to take advantage of Jim Forest's new biography, All Is Grace: A Biography of Dorothy Day (2011). After reading it, Moss incorporated the new insights of Forest. Forest was also kind enough to read the revised essay and make suggestions regarding it.

Read Article
Futurodyssey & Wisdom Page Updates

Beginning this month, I am starting two  newsletters: the revitalized and redesigned Wisdom Page Updates and  Futurodyssey, the monthly publication of the Center for Future Consciousness. Generally the two publications will not overlap much in content, though I will probably include common book reviews, relevant to both wisdom and the future, as I have done this first month. The reader can subscribe to the Futurodyssey newsletter by going to the CFC website. The CFC site contains the bulk of my writings on the future, future consciousness, character virtues, and notably wisdom. 

Book Review--The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun by Gretchen Rubin

"Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence."  Aristotle

Is happiness the good? Is the pursuit of happiness a worthy goal? Or is it a self-centered and shallow aspiration? In spite of the "pop culture" and "self-help" appearance of this book, I found it to be very thoughtful, well-researched, personable, engaging, and highly practical.

Gretchen Rubin makes a strong case that increasing one's happiness, indeed, is a very worthwhile goal to pursue, having great benefits and positive effects on all aspects of life, psychological, inter-personal, social, and even ethical. In The Happiness Project, she develops a general theory of happiness that is anything but shallow (in many ways resonant with Aristotle's concept of happiness), where happiness is an accomplishment--even a virtue--and further, she articulates a systematic program for how to realize greater happiness in one's life. Of particular note, Rubin works from a "resolution" framework, rather than a "goal achievement" framework: A resolution is something maintained as an ongoing new feature of one's way of life, rather than a goal which is something accomplished and completed.

Further, Rubin is really into self-monitoring--keeping lists of resolutions and daily checking off successes and failures; conscientious and methodical self-monitoring turns out to be a key supporting condition for effective self-transformation and the realization of happiness.

Filled with memorable quotes and simply stated principles ("Do good, feel good."), The Happiness Project is a great read. Further, it is worthwhile, for those interested, to compare Rubin's approach to Martin Seligman's books Authentic Happiness and Flourish.

Book Review - Redirect: The Surprising New Science of Psychological Change by Timothy Wilson

"I write to define myself--an act of self-creation--part of [the] process of becoming." Susan Sontag

The central thesis in Timothy Wilson's Redirect is that changing one's personal narrative (the story one tells oneself about his or her life, past, present, and future) and one's "core narrative" (the story one tells oneself about the world at large) are pivotal to self-transformation.

How one interprets the world and how one sees oneself--one's general and personal mindsets--are the foundations for one's thoughts, emotions, and actions, and these mindsets reflect the stories we tell ourselves. The narrative is critical to identity, ontology, and ethics. Based on extensive psychological research, rather than "pop psychology" and self-help books (which he strongly criticizes for their non-empirical and "feel good" approaches to life), Wilson outlines a set of "story editing" techniques that appear to produce real and relatively permanent changes in human behavior.

It is worthwhile to compare Wilson's theory of the self and human mind with Damasio's theory of the "autobiographical self"--there is a significant mutually supporting dimension to the two theories. Further, Wilson's narrative approach has great relevance to futurist thinking and the development of future consciousness. As many futurists argue, given the challenges and problems facing humanity, what we need is a new story (or stories) to take the place of our old dysfunctional ones. Wilson couldn't agree more.

Imagine: How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer

"...every creative journey begins with a problem..." Jonah Lehrer

In spite of the fact that Lehrer fell from grace and lost credibility for admitting that he concocted presumably factually accurate stories in his book Imagine, I still think that his book is a valuable and informative discussion of the nature of creativity.

Lehrer pulls together a variety of ideas on both individual and social creativity. Of particular note, he considers at length the "hard work" versus "sudden inspiration" explanations of creativity, the "immersion" versus "distraction" theories, and the creative genius versus creative culture perspectives.

Though I think that Lehrer gets a bit fuzzy and muddled on the relationship of the brain, the mind, and consciousness, and simplifies the right versus left cerebral hemisphere roles in human psychology, he does include a good amount of stimulating discussion on the brain and creativity. His discussion of West's research into the relative creativity of cities versus corporations (which can be corroborated and verified through some independent research on the reader's part) is also very enlightening.

If nothing else, reading Lehrer's book stimulated me into further articulating my own general theory of creativity (see my article on creativity) which I have now incorporated into my "Psychology of the Future" course. Creativity is a critical theme in both understanding wisdom and heightening future consciousness: Wisdom, as manifested in wise individuals, is a highly creative capacity and the future, for sure, is fundamentally an act of creation.

Book Review - Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by Roy Baumeister and John Tierney

"Until fairly recently, most people relied on a traditional method for maintaining self-control: They outsourced the job to God." Roy Baumeister and John Tierney

Willpower is a great book--the best non-fiction book I have read this year. Baumeister and Tierney argue at the onset that willpower or self-control is one of the two psychological variables most predictive of success in life (the other being intelligence). (And the evidence I have read, through a variety of sources, is that the former is a better predictor than the latter.)

From this opening argument, the authors next develop a general theory of willpower, backed by a huge amount of psychological research. Central to their theory is the hypothesis that willpower is a psychological resource of which we have only so much on a given day, and hence, we can and do use it up as the day progresses, putting us in "ego depleted" states.

But just as importantly, like the muscles of our body, we can exercise our self-control, making it more effective and powerful over time. The authors, drawing on empirical research, as well as fascinating biographical accounts of individuals such as Benjamin Franklin and Henry Morton Stanley, among others, explain a variety of ways to conserve willpower, to use it wisely, and to strengthen it.

Just as importantly, the authors make a strong connection between self-control and moral character (for one of the most commonly reported uses of willpower is the ongoing resistance of temptations and personal vices). As I have argued, self-responsibility is the foundational character virtue, for without it, one cannot develop any of the other virtues; Baumeister and Tierney similarly pivot the whole issue of character development on self-control.

Willpower is filled with numerous fascinating and eye-opening insights and ideas, critical to the challenge of heightening future consciousness and the development of the character virtue of wisdom. How can we control our thoughts--the flow of our consciousness? Why is it important to focus on "lofty thoughts"? Why is the pursuit of increasing self-esteem the wrong way to go? Are we psychologically and ethically evolving? How so?

The authors begin their book with a quote from Charles Darwin, "The highest possible stage in moral culture is when we recognize that we ought to control our thoughts." Yes indeed. Read Willpower. This is what it's all about.

That's it for this month: Evolution, flourishing, the wise culture, personal exemplars of wisdom, the pursuit of happiness, creativity, willpower, and new narratives for the future. Thanks for your interest in The Wisdom Page.
Tom Lombardo