Wisdom is a fuzzy term usually pitted against ‘mere knowledge.’ The implication is that we often use knowledge unwisely.

And the old are said to be wise.

Being old, I feel I should come up with a operational definition in case I’m called into account.

My theory:

1. Wisdom is pattern recognition across relatively long spans of time…decades rather than years.

I feel I started getting wise when I realized that a 3 year plan could actually happen and widened my planning horizon to 5 years, then 10, then longer.

2. If the old are wise, then it is simply because they have lived long enough to see longer cycle patterns. There’s no other way to do it. A knowledge of history extends personal longevity.

Having objectives and watching what fucks them up helps with long time-span pattern recognition. Pyrrhic victories teach wisdom. Being right but losing the fight teaches wisdom. So does being sure you were right and finding out over a long expanse of time that you were flat out raggedy ass wrong….so becoming wise requires a fair amount of self-directed honesty.

3. Evolutionarily, since people and only a very few other species (elephants, killer whales) live beyond menopause, it is likely that we get to be old people precisely because we might become wise!

The contribution to the gene pool by individuals past reproductive age in big brained social species is almost certainly because they offer something to the tribe that isn’t obvious in a short term or immediate perspective.

4. There is a large tactical component to wisdom. Recognizing and pointing to long-term patterns is of value to the listener depending on the tact and precision of the story-teller. Observing how good advice goes wrong is the heart of wisdom.

5. Finally, there is a contextual component to wisdom. The past must be enough like the present and projected future to make generalization possible. It’s easier to be wise about human nature than about changes triggered by science and technological disruption.

Fellow old folks note: pointing out that things are “not what they used to be” does not qualify as wisdom.

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Berkeley Backpacking Biz Lifer, System Builder, Coder, Community Organizer, Music and Evolutionary Biology Geek. Sign up and my projects at http://altabor.org/