Let’s define Wisdom. There is information. This you gather from your senses and various sources (blogs, books, school, etc). But information is just another form of noise and distraction if it is not learned.
Information that is learned is knowledge. Many educated individuals put all their faith in knowledge, but knowledge can be one of the major sources of delusion if that knowledge is not applied and tested in the real world.
The first two superpowers, perception and delusion come in to play here. They enhance both the gathering and testing of knowledge.
However, perception and ownership, can themselves be blocked by distraction and delusion. Distraction is about outside influences that keep you from your truth. Things like other people’s needs, emotions, agendas, and beliefs.
Delusion is about your own internal biases. Things like jealousy, judgment, self-righteousness and arrogance. It is not what you don’t know that is the biggest block to wisdom, but what you are convinced you already know that is the problem.
Wisdom is the third power and comes after after perception (the 1st power) and ownership (the 2nd power) for good reason. You must begin to get a handle on these two super-powers first or wisdom and truth will be clouded in a shroud of distraction and delusion.
So what is wisdom? Information learned and applied overtime generates wisdom.
So the path to wisdom looks like this:
Information + Learning + Experience= Wisdom
Step one is finding information. That is incredibly easy to do. Information is everywhere you look. For the first time in history any question you have can be queried on the internet in an an instant deliver thousands of responses.
This obviously brings a very important question to mind; or at least it should. Is all information quality information? Is all information worth learning? How do we know good information from bad information?
These are important questions and the answer is in the asking. In other words, even if the information you are exposed to is complete non-sense and not based in any fact, if you continue questioning its truth in an unbiased way, the quality of the information becomes apparent.
Here is a key thing to remember about wisdom. Opinion is often self-perpetuating, while questioning is self correcting.
Confirmation Bias Vs. Contradiction Bias
One of the greatest obstacles to wisdom is not what we don’t know, but what we think we already know. We humans have a glitch in our brain. You can think of it like a computer virus.
This “virus” causes our brain’s “software” to run in ways that don’t serve us. When we have an opinion about something this brain glitch makes us easily see things that agree with the opinion, but miss things that don’t.
This explains why people’s opinions, whether right or wrong, are often self perpetuating. In other words, they get strengthened and repeated over time rather than questioned. That is a big problem if you want to develop true knowledge and develop wisdom from it.
If you are trying to learn new information, gain wisdom, and grow to new heights of success and meaning in your life, an open mind is crucial. The fact that your brain is naturally close minded is a HUGE impediment to personal growth.
This is so pervasive psychology researchers have given it a name. They call it “selective attachment theory.” The more well known name for it is “confirmation bias.”
I love the definition given for confirmation bias at Wikipedia. They define it as “the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one’s beliefs or hypotheses, while giving disproportionately less consideration to alternative possibilities.”
In other words, you unconsciously perpetuate what you currently believe even if those beliefs are completely false. If you are someone wanting to change, what I just said should scare the shit out of you. It certainly does me.
There is a way to combat confirmation bias. I call it contradiction bias and it has become my diligent practice. This practice involves questioning all information you read, hear or are exposed to in any way; most importantly and critically the things you are already convinced are true.
The Socratic Method
This practice is very much in line with what the ancient philosopher Socrates taught. The Socratic method is based on questioning the validity of ideas in a logical rather than emotional way. Here is how this technique works:
- Create a statement you believe to be true or “common sense”
- Look closely for examples where this statement is NOT true
- If an example is found, reject the statement as false
- Rephrase the question in a more accurate way to account for the exception
- Repeat this process again and again until you can no longer find an exception
Let me give you an example from my own life. I once was a vegetarian who believed it was the only way to live and the most moral and healthy lifestyle. If I used the Socratic method on this idea it might progress like this:
Step 1: Create a statement I believe to be true or “common sense”
Result 1: Vegetarians are healthier than meat eaters
Step 2: Ask if the statement is true. Did I know any vegetarians who were not healthy? Did I know any meat eaters who were healthy?
Result 2: Yes, I could find examples of both in my life. I could also find research studies supporting that there were indeed unhealthy vegetarians and healthy meat eaters.
Step 3: Rephrase the original question to reflect a truth less encumbered by my own bias.
Result 3: I amend my original statement to say, “MOST vegetarians are healthier than meat eaters.”
Step 4: Repeat the process again and again. I would continue try to poke holes in my own assumptions.
Result 4: In the end, I may arrive at a statement far more true and accurate. Perhaps the statement would read, “There are many healthy vegetarians and many healthy meat eaters. Different people can thrive on different diets. Neither lifestyle seems to be superior except in the context of individual difference in metabolism, psychology and personal preferences.”
Can you see how that final statement reflects a huge amount of wisdom? The questions asked in the Socratic method would have required a diligent, continuing examination of vegetarian lifestyles compared to meat eating lifestyles.
In reality, I did an examination of this very issue between the years of 1998 and 2000 (and have continued since). I initially entered into this level of inquiry to try to prove the meat-eaters wrong. I thought that by reading the material they were reading I could poke holes in their arguments and open their minds. What actually happened is I poked holes in my own arguments.
As a result of that journey I acquired a huge body of knowledge related to nutrition, nutrition research, and biochemistry around many different eating styles. Out of that knowledge, combined with self experimentation, and clinical experience with my patients, I was able to develop expertise and wisdom around nutrition.
That practice of opening my mind and actually reading and considering opposing views, versus rejecting them outright, has served me well. Since then when I feel certain or self-righteous about a topic, I see it as a sign I am falling prey to my natural human confirmation virus. Then I make it a point to purposely seek out and study materials that do NOT agree with my assumptions.
Much to the chagrin of my family, friends, and peers I am a constant questioner of their beliefs and my own.
Many in the world of nutrition are unable to enjoy this level of expertise and perspective simply because they have never stopped to question, examine and correct their beliefs. Instead they are content on just accepting ideas that they have not fully examined and tested.
The WISE Model
As you can see, information is not enough. The bias of the information’s creator, as well as your own bias, makes that quality of all information suspect from the get go. True knowledge comes from questioning all sides of an issue and learning the nuance and exceptions. Wisdom comes from the accumulated experience in applying the knowledge you have gained.
In order for you to begin this practice of mastering the super-power of wisdom, I have created an acronym for you. WISE (I know, genius right? You’re welcome 😉
W= Watch your bias.
Bias is always there. It is a hidden force of influence keeping you unconscious and delusional. You must “watch” closely to make sure it does not sabotage you. Your emotions can guide you and keep you on track in this regard. When you are feeling judgmental, self-righteous, superior, closed-minded or any other emotion related to the need to be right, you can be certain your bias glitch is at work. If you feel those emotions, you should stop questioning other people’s beliefs, and start questioning your own
I= Introduce more options.
With anything you seek to understand you MUST look for more options. As with the Socratic method, look to find successful and unsuccessful examples of your idea. Try to discover as many exceptions as possible. Purposely question yourself as if you were a combative trial lawyer. Take the devil’s advocate point of view.
Lateral thinking is one of the most useful aspects of introducing more options. When James Dyson, the inventor of the cyclone vacuum cleaner, was seeking to find a solution to a better vacuum he did not focus on a stronger motor like everyone else. He took inspiration from the timber industry that used giant cyclone fans to pull the saw dust up and then through centrifugal force push it out to the sides so it could be caught and removed from the air. He was able to see this solution by “looking outside the box.” That is the super-power of Wisdom at work.
The mega-billionaire Warren Buffet is said to include critics of his investment strategies and naysayers of his favorite companies in his meetings. He does this to expose himself to more options and an alternative viewpoint. It helps him see what he may otherwise be blind to.
S= Sober up.
Take out your emotions. Emotions hijack logic, reinforce bias and shade the truth. Think of emotions like road signs leading you along to your final destination. When you feel yourself getting emotional about a belief or idea, this is your internal GPS telling you you have made a wrong turn. The emotional brain and the logical brain can’t operate together well at the same time.
When you are making a decision and evaluating information you need to return to the problem after emotions pass. For example, let’s say you are engaged in a heated debate on social media about the merits of universal healthcare. Your major goal is to understand and find the truth. Getting angry or frustrated shuts down your learning brain and makes you default back to your old position, the very one you seek to improve with greater knowledge.
To combat this, simply walk away for a time. Go for a workout, get a good nights sleep, watch a funny movie or spend some time with your kids. After the emotions have past you will find you can look at the issue with a more fresh and open perspective. You are more likely to learn and grow in this state.
E- Evolve your thinking.
Operate always from the assumption that you are wrong. It wont be hard to do, because you likely are. Information is constantly evolving. Rarely will your assumptions be 100% accurate and most of the time they will be dead wrong. By assuming your wrong from the start it gives you the perspective of “more information is required.”
With that understanding you will gladly continue to gather more data and adjust course as needed. This is commonly called being “open-minded” and it is a very rare trait among humans. Open-mindedness comes as a natural consequence of mastering the super-power of Wisdom.
Those with wisdom assume they are the most ignorant person in the room. Those without assume they are the smartest. Those with wisdom know there is always more to learn. Those without assume they already know all there is to know. Those with wisdom are prepared to be wrong and in fact love the upgrade in wisdom that comes from adjusting and readjusting their position and beliefs. Those who are not stubbornly cling to their beliefs even in the face of overwhelming evidence against their beliefs.
Reminds me of one of my favorite quotes by Osho: “The less a person knows the more stubbornly they know it.”
A man with wisdom realizes that he, by his very human nature, is delusional. A wise man knows there is always more to learn and experience. He knows that his truth may not be the truth. He realizes that by adopting a posture of open-mindedness, he can learn more and gain more knowledge and wisdom in the future.