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Wisdom: From Philosophy to Neuroscience [Paperback]

Stephen S. Hall
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

March 8 2011

We all recognize wisdom, but defining it is more elusive. In this fascinating journey from philosophy to science, Stephen S. Hall gives us a penetrating history of wisdom, from its sudden emergence in the fifth century B.C. to its modern manifestations in education, politics, and the workplace. Hall’s bracing exploration of the science of wisdom allows us to see this ancient virtue with fresh eyes, yet also makes clear that despite modern science’s most powerful efforts, wisdom continues to elude easy understanding.


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Wisdom: From Philosophy to Neuroscience + The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World
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Review

“A fascinating attempt to understand one of our most cherished—but least well-understood-aspirations.”
Seed Magazine

“With the flair of an experienced science journalist, Hall takes us on a rollicking interdisciplinary journey through the ages, blending modern science, history and philosophy. . . . Highly readable.”
Nature Neuroscience

“A comprehensive and thought-provoking book that examines the difficult topic of wisdom in a fair—even wise—manner.”
Science News
 
“Utterly engaging. . . . Hall’s work as a translator and intermediary between the humanities and the hard neurosciences is in itself a feat of extraordinary mental balance and understanding.”
The Post and Courier
 
“Stephen Hall is not just a terrific science writer, he’s a terrific writer, period.”
—Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma

Wisdom is a golden-ticket tour of the human mind, in all its dimensions, led by one of the most insightful and trustworthy science journalists we’ve ever had. This book is a feast, not a snack. Get ready to digest more smart brain science than you ever thought possible.”
—David Shenk, author of The Genius in All of Us: Why Everything You’ve Been Told About Genetics, Talent, and IQ Is Wrong
 
“Astonishingly wise, incredibly well written and most importantly wonderfully synthetic. One can disagree with some of the parts but few will disagree with the whole. Wisdom is still with us.”
—Michael Gazzaniga, author of Human: The Science Behind What Makes Us Unique
 
“Steve Hall has done it again. He masterfully explains how ‘wisdom’ comes out of the brain without oversimplifying this enormously complex topic.”
—Joseph LeDoux, Synaptic Self: How Our Brains Become Who We Are
 
“With erudition and literary skill, Stephen Hall brings us a powerful and perceptive synthesis of the contributions made by philosophers, theologians, and 21st century scientists to humankind’s ages-old search for the sources of wisdom. As a work of insight and art, this is indeed a wise book.”
—Sherwin Nuland, author of How We Die: Reflections of Life’s Final Chapter

About the Author

For twenty-five years, Stephen S. Hall has written about the intersection of science and society in books, magazine articles, and essays, primarily in The New York Times Magazine. He is the author of five previous critically acclaimed books, including Invisible Frontiers and Merchants of Immortality. He has received numerous awards, including in 2004 the Science in Society Journalism Award for book writing from the National Association of Science Writers and, in 1998, the William B. Coley Award from the Cancer Research Institute. In addition to science, Hall has written extensively about travel, baseball, and Italy. He lives in Brooklyn, New York, with his wife and two children.

Visit the author's website at: www.stephenshall.com.


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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great read. April 2 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Very thought provoking. I found it slow to get into but after the first chapter I couldn't put it down. The book motivated me to seek out others by this author.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.8 out of 5 stars  15 reviews
56 of 60 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Reviewing "Wisdom: From Philosophy to Neuroscience" March 18 2010
By Vivian Clayton - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Stephen Hall's book on Wisdom manages to integrate the empirical research that's been conducted over the last thirty-five years in a style and convivial manner that has eluded the scientific community. I felt the book delivered on its promise: it offered much information about the ways we go about making complex life decisions. It reflected honestly on the real life shortcomings of people who have always been perceived as wise historically, such as Solomon. In my opinion, the best part of the book was delivered by offering examples of how adopting a wisdom based approach can affect how things are done in settings such as the classroom and the boardroom.

This is not a "How to be wise" manual. If you like labyrinths, and recognize that many paths can lead to the center of things, this is the book for you. Like many portraits in an art gallery, you will find yourself pausing at various junctures to look more carefully at this or that quality of wisdom - be it patience, humility or compassion. Fortunately, there is no 'closing time' to this gallery. At the end of my visit, I personally felt a sense of gratitude that a writer could capture such an illusive topic without diminishing its potential for further study in matters both personal and societal.

----Vivian Clayton, PhD
19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fulfilling Read May 3 2010
By Alice P. - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
What I really liked about this book is that I went away from it with a deeper sense of what wisdom means to me rather than some universal understanding of the meaning of wisdom. If you choose to read this book you will likely take in the research, stories, and various perspectives on wisdom with your personal experience in mind, and that is one reason why this book is a fulfilling read. At the onset Hall discusses the elusiveness of wisdom, yet emphasizes that simply because wisdom has normally evaded scientists that science, as well as philosophy, can tell us a great deal about it. The neuroscience research he references are given meaning and substance through real-life examples and philosophical viewpoints.

If you are looking for wisdom to be concretized or for a "how to" manual you will be disappointed. If you want to think differently about a subject science and philosophy will likely never be able to get a full grapple on, but can tell us a lot about, you'll get a great deal out of this book.
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars NOT the Same Book March 20 2011
By Book Fanatic - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I could not disagree more with Ray Gardner's review that this is the same material or even type of book as those he mentioned. That is an atrocious appraisal of the book and seems to represent an incredibly shallow reading of it. Just because Hall looks to some possible neural correlates of what he calls "Pillars of Wisdom" does not mean he is doing the same thing as Gladwell et al. Read the media or other reviews above if you want a better idea.

This was an outstanding book that indeed as Nature Neuroscience says:

"..takes us on a rollicking interdiscinplinary journey through the ages, blending modern science, history and philosophy..."

This book is highly recommended and can be read and thought about quite deeply. It is not at all of the pop-Gladwellian genre. It is itself a wise book.
41 of 52 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars It's The Same Book July 14 2010
By Ray Gardner - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Not a bad read, but it's really the same book as the other most recent ones of the same genre. Gladwell, Iyengar, Poundstone, Lehrer et al. They all start with the same pattern; cite well known research that is beyond question - usually Kahneman and Tversky - then weave anecdotes throughout to create a narrative that gives the impression that the anecdotes are as equally well grounded as the real research.

The book is worth reading if one hasn't already read any of the other authors mentioned above (or one of the many other unnamed) but it really is just one more of the same cookie cutter mold.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Wisdom And Where To Find It Aug. 11 2010
By Adam Rourke author of The Goblin Universe - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
In this book Stephen S. Hall takes on one of life's most perplexing questions. What is wisdom and how does this lump of gray matter we call a brain produce it. Drawing on the work of philosophers, theologians, and now scientists Mr. Hall attempts to synthesis all of their output into a coherent answer. Philosophers and theologians have wrestled with this question for thousands of years but science has taken up the search much more recently. And it is the research done by neuroscientists that is the focus of this work.

The book itself is constructed in a fairly common style which consists of a series of well known research papers embedded within a cluster of anecdotes. Mr. Hall seems to hold all of this research in more awe than it perhaps deserves. For when looked at dispassionately it can be seen that, while some of the work is first rate, some comes off as mere hubris. The discovery that the mind has a biological base is hardly a revelation. Likewise finding out that sometimes people allow emotions to cloud their judgment is not much of a discovery either. For the problem that any scientific study faces is that wisdom is an experience not a thing and an experience is more suited to the dialectic of philosophy than to the reductionism of science. Discovering where an event is occurring is not the same thing as discovering what it is. One neuron firing is exactly like any other neuron firing. So how does this neuron firing create sight and another doing the identical thing create sound? Having said this it must be admitted that his sins are no greater than is common in an age that elevated science to the pedestal of all knowing. As a Hindu sage once said, "Science does not explain reality, it explains it away" and while reading the various studies this saying keeps coming to mind."

If you are not looking for deep insights into the soul of reality this is an entertaining even enlightening read. It takes the latest research in neuroscience pertaining to wisdom, compares it with philosophy and enter leavens it with anecdotes of such people as Gandhi. These anecdotes, in Gandhi's case a description of his brief experience as a dandy on the streets of 19th Century London, are, to me at least, the most interesting parts of the book. Although he sometimes strays into academic jargon the book is, for the most part, clearly written in a style that anyone can understand and talks about questions that many people would be the better for thinking about. In the end it may tell you where to find wisdom but it will not tell you how to get it.
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