Tuesday, June 27, 2006

On Wisdom

[Wrote the following in a GRE sample test.]

"Wisdom is rightfully attributed not to people who know what to look for in life but to people who know what to overlook."

Wisdom is a concept that borders with Intuition. It is the subtle difference between the two that proves the correctness of the statement above.

Wisdom is accumulative and retrospective in nature. It is about borrowing some knowledge from the vast bank of experience accumulated over the ages. It is about looking back at the past to gain insight about what is ahead of us. Intuition is more about the heart than the brain. Knowledge or reasoning are irrelevant when it comes to taking intuitive decisions.

In my opinion, knowing what to look for is associated with intuitive thinking while knowing what to overlook is associated with wisdom.

A simple narrative example should serve well to explain the statements. Every country faces a vast array of options. Choices between conflicting ideas compel us to exclude various options as we go through. Intuition leads citizens to envision a certain kind of future that they wish to realize. A short list of possibilities and measures associated with them can be prepared by dint of such 'look-for' attitudes, i.e., intuitive thinking. However, when it comes to implementing the goals and giving life to dreams, we need to arrive at a certain, exclusive answer. At that point, it is more important to know what to overlook than what to look for.

The final stage of every such decision-making process requires knowledge about possible consequences. It is easy to pick what we prefer or to demand what we like. Such thoughts are visionary, and hardly require any idea about the world as it is, as it was, or as it will be. On the contrary, knowledge of consequences comes only when one knows about the vastness of the world and the depth of the accumulated experience of the generations before us. Thus we realize that intuition is inclusive and wisdom is exclusive. Every option picked is a hundred options dismissed.

Another example might help further. Every leader knows that his/her country needs more resources. It is a gut-feeling to know that we need resources, facilities, amenities, etc. It is what leaders "look for". However, when faced with the onus of choosing between domestc rationing and invading another country, everything boils down to the knowledge of knowing what not to do. Wisdom is reflected not in the possibilities we explore, but in the decisions we arrive at by overlooking all else.

In fine, based on the retrospective nature and exclusiveness of wisdom, I believe it is rightly attributed people who know what to overlook. If life is compared to a sentence, visionaries start the sentence by looking for the correct word and wise people draw the appropriate conclusions on the basis of prior knowledge and intelligent exclusion.

1 comment:

Monwar said...

You got the idea very right, but don't you think individual level examples would have made the point of the article/essay more easily understandable?

For a very dumbed-down example, I want to play a game at 3:00 at night, whereas I have an important assignment to submit early in the morning. My long 'experience' has taught me to overlook/ignore that feeling and rather sleep early to properly submit that assignment and do the presentation. Intuition (of a short term nature by definition) might have resulted in the exact opposite. Wisdom, basically is the ability to look at the longer term and be able to ignore or overcome the manifold interactions of the shorter term, which are probably of no immediate value.