In This Issue
Editorial: The Elephant and the Blind Men: Implications for an Interdisciplinary Approach to Wisdom by Walter Moss
Wisdom and the Future
Online Course on the Virtues: Humility
Exemplars of Wisdom Update: New Additions to The Wisest People Who Ever Lived
Wisdom Research: University of Chicago - Mindfulness
Wisdom Page & Futurodyssey Archives
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Director of The Wisdom Page & the Center for Future Consciousness 

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Wisdom Page Updates
October, 2013

This Month's Highlights  




Included in this month's issue of the Wisdom Page Updates are:  

  • Guest Editorial: The Elephant and the Blind Men: Implications for an Interdisciplinary Approach to Wisdom by Walter Moss 
  • Wisdom and the Future: An Evolution in the Wisdom Page Updates
  • Online Course on the Virtues: Humility     
  • Exemplars of Wisdom Update: The Ancients
  • Wisdom Research at the University of Chicago - Mindfulness        
  • Wisdom Page and Futurodyssey Archives 


Guest Editorial:
The Elephant and the Blind Men: Implications for an Interdisciplinary Approach to Wisdom
by Walter Moss
Wisdom Page Advisory Board Member   

There is an old parable about blind men and an elephant. In the Buddhist version they all define an elephant differently depending on which part of it they touched. They quarrel, shout, and come to blows. Buddha's point was that reality is much larger than most of us can grasp, and like the blind men who only felt a tusk, a trunk, or a tail, we are wrong to think that reality is limited to the small portion we think it is.


Robert Kane in his book Ethics and the Quest for Wisdom relates this story, but then states that "one need not thereby conclude that the real elephant is some unknowable thing-in-itself. It may be what is correctly described (if only partially) by each of the blind men and by others from other perspectives. Each goes wrong only in claiming to have the whole truth about it. This theme is importantly related to . . . 'aspiration' to wisdom, namely, that the whole or final truth is not something finite creatures can possess entirely. What they can do is partake of or participate in that truth from limited points of view."

Kane's point is vitally important to all of us who are Wisdom Page (WP) contributors and readers. Those of us who contribute necessarily do so from "limited points of view." We include, among others, philosophers, psychologists, educators, literary scholars, scientists, engineers, futurists, and historians. We may try to broaden our understanding by reaching beyond the disciplines in which we were trained, but (like the blind men) we are all still limited-and not just by our training, but also by our biases and individual personalities. 

The founder of this WP site, Copthorne Macdonald, once compiled a Wisdom Values list. Among my favorites are love, humility, openness, tolerance, and a "reality-seeking, truth-seeking orientation." More recently Tom Lombardo composed a list of wisdom virtues, many of which overlap with the values on Macdonald's list. 

My reasons for stressing some of the values or virtues above are related to the blind men and elephant fable. If each of us only grasps a portion of the truth, then we should be humble, open, and tolerant seekers of the truth. Wise people are neither egotists nor dogmatists.  


Psychologist Robert Sternberg has argued that "smart and well educated people" are often unwise because of four fallacies, all of which are tied up with too big an ego and with overestimating one's own powers. In the same article Sternberg writes that "people are wise to the extent that they use their intelligence to seek a common good." Wisdom scholars recognize that wisdom involves not only thought, but also feelings and actions. To my mind, love is the supreme wisdom value or virtue because we best evidence love when displaying all three dimensions, and it also necessitates humility, tolerance, and overcoming egotism, and it seeks the common good. 

Since at best we all only possess partial truths, we look for wisdom from as many different perspectives as possible. Philosophy (from the Greek meaning "love of wisdom") and psychology are obviously two important sources. 

Science can strengthen in us, as it did in Russian physicist Andrei Sakharov, various wisdom values identified by Macdonald (in addition to his Values list, see here). These include perseverance; self-discipline; pragmatism; seeing the world realistically but also with a sense of wonder;  realizing the oneness of the universe; being self-critical and willing to admit error; having a positive attitude toward problem solving; and holistic thinking that combines reason and intuition. 

But science and scientists often become too narrow. In 1925, mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead, in his Science and the Modern World, warned that such narrowness would leave us "with no expansion of wisdom and with greater need of it."  Later in the century economist  E. F. Schumacher  realized that most economics education was also too narrow and paid insufficient attention to wisdom. Whether considering economics, science, technology, politics, the environment, or our own personal life, he thought that wisdom based on the highest values should guide our choices. Still later philosopher Nicholas Maxwell made a similar point, with Maxwell declaring, "All our modern global crises are the outcome of science without wisdom." 

The Wisdom and Literature section of the Wisdom Page indicates how reading various types of literature, including that of Shakespeare, can make us wiser. The WP's Profiles of Wisdom and Personal Quests offer us biographical and autobiographical approaches to wisdom. 

One form of Intellectual History studies the history of ideas (such as "wisdom"). WP links are available to works like Richard Trowbridge's The Scientific Approach of Wisdom and Paul Baltes's Wisdom as Orchestration of Mind and Virtue, both of which devote numerous pages to outlining what various thinkers from ancient times to the present have had to say about wisdom. My "Wisdom Writers: Franklin, Johnson, Goethe, and Emerson" is a recent example of such history.

Links to WP sections on Education for Wisdom and Wisdom and the Future suggest the contributions educators and futurists can make to our knowledge of wisdom.  

Besides their disciplinary knowledge, wisdom scholars (as Tom Lombardo wrote about wise persons) "have their own special and distinctive personalities. . . . each brings their own irreducible color and memorable quality to their expressions of wisdom." 

Thus, those of us who contribute to the WP are like the blind men in the elephant fable, but also unlike them. Like them, we touch a different part of something (wisdom in our case) and describe what we experience, but unlike the blind men each of us doesn't insist our experience is the only valid one. Instead we learn from each other and hope by doing so, we come closer to understanding the complex phenomenon we label wisdom. 

Wisdom and the Future: 
An Evolution in the Wisdom Page Updates


Wisdom and the future are intimately connected. We pursue and cultivate wisdom to empower and guide us in the creation of the good life and a positive future. Though there are diverse descriptions of wisdom, I would describe wisdom as the capacity to create a good future. Wisdom--at least practical wisdom--points toward the future. 

As readers of the Wisdom Page Updates may know, each month I publish two electronic newsletters, the WP Updates and the Center for Future Consciousness newsletter. Often I include the same new essays, book reviews, or other news items in both publications, since the submitted pieces apply both to the future and to wisdom. As a case in point, this last month I received a number of article submissions to the Wisdom Page that specifically had to do either with the future per se, or wisdom and the future.  

So in the spirit of evolution, innovation, efficiency, and good sense, beginning in November I will be synthesizing the two electronic newsletters into one. (The two websites will continue as separate entities.) We will be publishing in the newsletter articles, book reviews, and news items that embrace both wisdom and the future, especially highlighting those items that pull together and integrate both topics. 

Of course, we will still publish historically informed works on wisdom, such as Walter Moss' frequent essays that explore historical exemplars and scholars of wisdom; history and the future are not antithetical but clearly connected--the study of history informs and guides us regarding the future. History expands our temporal consciousness -- in my mind, an essential dimension of wisdom. 

Still to enliven and energize our mission to communicate to the world the central importance of wisdom in life, we are going to highlight the critical connection between wisdom and a positive future for humanity. 

Kicking off this new emphasis in the newsletter, the varied submissions I received this last month on wisdom and the future will be published in the forthcoming issue. 

In November, look for a new title for the newsletter that will include the words "future"  and "wisdom" within it; we (the advisory board members) are still discussing the exact wording for the title. 

The interested reader can view a number of my articles on wisdom and the future, including "The Wisdom of Future Consciousness," "Wisdom Facing Forward," and 

Tom Lombardo

Online Course on the Virtues:  


"Humility is not thinking less of yourself, 
it's thinking of yourself less."
C. S. Lewis

"Pride makes us artificial and humility makes us real."
Thomas Merton


Continuing our online course on the virtues, this month's virtue is humility. The profound truths of humility--an honesty without illusions--where learning thrives, opinions succumb to facts, dignity prevails, we are equal with others, and hubris is scorned, endow humility with virtue. Find a healthy and gratifying balance between vanity and servility as you practice humility every day.


"It was pride that changed angels into devils; it is humility that makes men as angels."

"Do you wish to rise? Begin by descending. You plan a tower that will pierce the clouds? Lay first the foundation of humility."

St. Augustine

*  *  *  *

The course includes Instructions for contacting the instructor. In addition, the Wikiversity platform encourages your participation in improving the course.  Comments on each page are welcome on the accompanying  "Talk" page, accessed via the "Discuss" tab.

We want to hear from you.

If you are interested in participating in a forum of active students to discuss assignments and share your thoughts, please let us know and we will work to provide a space for that. Also, we would like to be able to provide conscientious students a completion certificate at the end of the course, but we have not yet decided how best to assess completion. What are your ideas?

We certainly hope you continue to enjoy this tour of the virtues.

Leland Beaumont

Exemplars of Wisdom Update:
New Additions to
The Wisest People Who Ever Lived
 The Ancients 


Lee Beaumont, one of the Wisdom Page Advisory Board members, as part of his online course on wisdom, created a working list of notable "exemplars of wisdom." Two months ago we sent out a query and challenge to readers of The Wisdom Page to nominate additional people, besides those originally identified, to also include on the list. Both Tom Lombardo and Walter Moss sent in nominations from the modern era, which Lee added to his list. This month Lee added a list of notable "Ancients," including  Confucius, Buddha, Lao-Tzu, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and Jesus of Nazareth. 


Repeating our challenge from last month, as readers, what contemporary or historical individuals would you add to Lee's list? Please email your suggestions with the reasons for your choices. We will keep readers updated on new nominations to the list in future issues of the Wisdom Page Updates.   


Thanks to Lee Beaumont  

Wisdom Research: University of Chicago


Essays and research reports in this month's issue of
Wisdom Research at the University of Chicago focus on mindfulness: meditation, mindfulness, and executive control; mindfulness, well-being, and preventing burnout; wisdom and mindfulness; and mindfulness neuroscience. One can read the articles and subscribe to the regular newsletter on the website.

Futurodyssey &
Wisdom Page Updates:
Newsletters and Archives

Beginning last fall (2012), I began publishing two newsletters: the revitalized and redesigned
Wisdom Page Updates and 
Futurodyssey (the monthly publication of the
Center for Future Consciousness).  So readers can view earlier issues, both newsletters now have
Archive Pages. View the Wisdom Page Updates Archive Page; view the Futurodyssey Archive Page. The reader can subscribe to the Wisdom Page Updates on The Wisdom Page Contact Page; the reader can subscribe to the
Futurodyssey newsletter by going to the CFC website 

That's it for this month:

A guest editorial on the interdisciplinary approach to wisdom by Walter Moss, the online course on virtues highlighting humility this month, an further update on Lee Beaumont's list of exemplars of wisdom, an update of wisdom research from the University of Chicago, and our announcement on pulling together and highlighting the intimate connection between wisdom and the future in coming issues.


Tom Lombardo