What's a good definition of wisdom?

Research Sprints are short (usually one hour) Internet spelunking sessions guided by questions. As I explore, I stream my thoughts into the Captain's Log. Writing prevents me from defaulting to a passive knowledge consumption mindset. While writing, I engage with what I read, and it is easier to notice when I am surprised. Afterwards, I summarize and quantify how much my beliefs updated.

New beliefs and questions

  • 50%: getting precise about a word like "wisdom" will require factoring it into a few different sub-goals - this is just too broad.
  • idk%: "Wise reasoning" is the ability to balance competing interests, such as those between short- and long-term goals, personal vs extrapersonal vs interpersonal goals, and adjusting to vs influencing one's environment (Sternberg 1998)
    • 90% This can be quantified by asking people what they'd do in various situations, and these tests correlate with various indices of living well.
    • 90%: intellectual reasoning is not the right choice of tool for this task: it's too underpowered and too effortful.
    • 90%: both Joe Edelman's "feeling through" and Jasen Murray's "internal alignment" are strategies for utilizing subconscious processing to this end.
  • idk%: different sets of values can be compared to each other once you assume a normative ethical framework.
    • idk%: I like deontological ethics as long as I can modulate it by the quality of rational decisionmaking.
    • idk%: I also like virtue ethics.
  • 90%: wisdom is related to knowing what is right and acting accordingly.
  • Future questions:
    • What are the subtypes of wisdom? Wise reasoning, having a ....
    • Why are EAs so interested in utilitarianism? What are the arguments against?

Captain's Log

Questions I have

Updated 5:25 PM.

  • How would I identify if someone is wise? Does their advice help me make good and meaningful choices?
  • Who are wise individuals I admire? Why? Daniel Schmactenberger, for his excellent sensemaking ability that adds clarity and motivates many others to change their entire life path, in addition to his deep understanding of how to make meaningful choices. He's like a reverend: his advice caused me to have no regrets in my last conversation with Grandma. I would very much like to be like him.
  • What is the connection between wisdom and equanimity? Anxiety and frustration are evidence that I'm not living live in accordance with my values, so living wisely is a strategy to reducing these negative emotions.
  • Why do I want to be wise? Because wise decisionmaking is correlated to indices of a good life.

4:03 PM: My own definition, to start: someone who is wise understands their own path to living a good and meaningful life, and makes decisions accordingly. They're also effective at helping others find their own path. It's connected to good judgment. They pull not just from their own experience, but they're also well-read and consulting with wise people from the past.

I feel wise right now! I biked over here to BKPL, am listening to classical music, am following my curiosity, and am feeling pretty great overall.

4:06 PM: Joe Edelman's definition: someone that is fast to feel through situations. "Feeling through" means using emotions as guides to what is important. A wise person is one that has felt through many situations before, and has articulated their values, and lives completely in accordance with their values, so they feel a healthy pride in themselves.

An emergent definition: someone that lives completely in accordance with their values.

Surely the values matter, though. I'm reminded of Schmactenberger's metrics for a healthy society: emotional correlation * rational decisionmaking * % of the world that's the in-group.

Can I compare one set of values to another?

I could evaluate them each with an ethical framework, like utilitarianism.

4:15 PM: brief detour into ethical frameworks:

Well, the four main branches of philosophy are epistemology (knowledge and beliefs), logic (the structure arguments), ethics (right and wrong), metaphysics (what IS there and what is it like).

Ethics can be broken down further into:

  1. Meta-ethics, concerning the theoretical meaning and reference of moral propositions, and how their truth values (if any) can be determined;
  2. Normative ethics, concerning the practical means of determining a moral course of action;
  3. Applied ethics, concerning what a person is obligated (or permitted) to do in a specific situation or a particular domain of action.

My favorite normative ethical theories, from the Wikipedia page:

4:32 PM: Virtue Ethics.

Socrates: wisdom is knowing what is right and doing what is good, and will therefore be happy.

What would Amanda Askell say about virtue ethics? I don't see any arguments.

An example of modern virtue ethics is Stoicism.

One argument against virtue is that it's difficult to know which of these are based in natural laws (not killing?) vs based in cultural mores.

4:45 PM: Consequentialism (the ends justify the means). Utilitarianism is the canonical example.

Lastly, deontology, which posits that the intention matters most. If you multiply intent by rational decisionmaking, then I like this much better than consequentialism.

We examined whether shifting from global, de-contextualized reports to state-level reports about concrete situations provides a less biased method to assess wise reasoning (e.g., intellectual humility, recognition of uncertainty and change, consideration of the broader context at hand and perspectives of others, integration of these perspectives/compromise), which may be aligned with the notion of balancing interests. Results of a large-scale psychometric investigation(N= 4,463) revealed that the novel situated wise reasoning scale (SWIS) is reliable and appears independent of psychological biases (attribution bias, bias blind spot, self-deception, impression management), whereas global wisdom reports are subject to such biases. Moreover, SWIS scores were positively related to indices of living well (e.g., adaptive emotion regulation, mindfulness), and balancing of cooperative and self-protective interests, goals (influence-vs.-adjustment) and causal inferences about conflict (attribution to the self-vs.-other party). In contrast, global wisdom reports were unrelated or negatively related to balance-related measures.

What are these situational tests?

The notion of balancing interests unites different theoretical models of wisdom in general, and wise reasoning in particular. For instance, Sternberg’s (1998) influential balance theory of wisdom has pointed out to various intrapersonal, interpersonal, and extrapersonal goals, long-and short-term plans, and goals of adjusting to versus influencing one’s environment (Sternberg, 1998, 2003). The centrality of balancing to wisdom goes beyond Sternberg’s conceptualization. Indeed, when summarizing the last few decades of psychological wisdom research, Staudinger and Glück (2011) concluded that:

"Wisdom concerns mastering the basic dialectics shaping human existence, such as the dialectic between good and bad, positivity and negativity, dependency and independence, certainty and doubt, control and lack of control, finiteness and eternity, strength and weakness, and selfishness and altruism."

Such dialectics, or trade-offs, are especially pronounced in ill-structured situations, with wise reasoning conceptualized as a process promoting balance between these conflicting interests (Achenbaum & Orwoll, 1991; Grossmann, 2017)

Other definitions...

Daniel Schmactenberger: something like: your ability to make good choices despite the inability to quantify everything of interest, which is infinite-dimensional. Things that we can quantify, we can optimize. My definition here feels a bit circular. Making a good decision despite not being able to quantify things feels like good judgment.

From my convo with Laura: wisdom is your ability to make choices that lead to meaningful experiences. Must be modulated by your rational decisionmaking and the alignment of your values system with the ultimate set of virtues (?). I wonder what exactly that system would be? Also, I feel like investigating my own values is going to result in a particular set of improvisational strategies that's somewhat different from a comprehensive normative theory.

5:12 PM: Jasen's theory of IFS has me sharpening the skill of consulting and trusting my intuition, which requires first clearing out hidden and counterproductive strategies in my psyche. This is a practical strategy for vectoring towards the ability to balance many considerations.

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