Beloit College Magazine

Beloit College Magazine

Fall/Winter 2010 (November 8, 2010)

Wisdom: From Philosophy to Neuroscience

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November 8, 2010

Wisdom: From Philosophy to NeuroscienceBy Stephen S. Hall

A.A. Knopf Books

New York, N.Y., 2010

In his latest book, award-winning science writer Stephen Hall uses a researcher’s eye for detail and a storyteller’s skill with narrative to tackle wisdom, that abstract and mysterious human ideal. In its holistic investigation of wisdom, this book engages theology, philosophy, psychology, and other disciplines.

Hall explains how the concept of wisdom first emerged independently in far-flung civilizations in the fifth century B.C.E.; how this characteristic became deeply associated with religion and philosophy; and how scientific research in the last half-century has opened up a new avenue for understanding wisdom through the study of the human brain.

Discussing the neurological roots of compassion, altruism, morality, and other aspects of wisdom, Hall demonstrates that in some ways, even a notion as abstract as wisdom can be studied empirically. But in the end, Hall finds that wisdom remains mostly elusive. Perhaps we would do well, as a clinical psychologist and one of the first wisdom researchers advises Hall, “to leave some mystery there.”

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