Wisdom: From Philosophy to Neuroscience Paperback – Mar 8 2011
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“A fascinating attempt to understand one of our most cherished—but least well-understood-aspirations.”
“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.”
“A comprehensive and thought-provoking book that examines the difficult topic of wisdom in a fair—even wise—manner.”
“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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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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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