March 14, 2007


When I've got a little time and think of it, I like wandering over to Paul Graham's site and reading an essay (even if I've read them all before—they tend to have good replay value). He rarely disappoints; he's geeky in all the right ways, and has well-placed priorities, and he's insightful and a good writer. So his essays tend to be pretty good.

Today I read his "Is it worth being wise?", and it answers an interesting question: What's the difference between intelligence and wisdom? His answer has to do with wisdom having a lower variance in ability to answer life's questions, but you should really go read his version.

I actually disagree to some extent. For instance, I would say that this essay is evidence of his wisdom, in this case representing his insightfulness and his ability to condense his insight and convey it well; but that is something that he would seem to put more in the "intelligence" column. I do think he's getting at something interesting, though, in that even if his "wisdom" doesn't map perfectly to my idea of "wisdom", it's certainly a different thing from what he calls "intelligence", and both are useful in their way. What I actually found most interesting in the essay was what he had to say about the implications for education in the modern world, towards the end of the essay.

So, something else to think about. I thought I'd throw it out there, especially for the folks out there who plan to be educators (and especially gifted educators).

"The path to wisdom is through discipline, and the path to intelligence through carefully selected self-indulgence." --Paul Graham

Posted by blahedo at 4:47pm on 14 Mar 2007
I disagree with him from the very beginning. I see intelligence as ability-to-learn (minimal repetitions, increased depth, etc), and wisdom as (education + intelligence + emotional readiness). That is... no matter how fast I learn, if I haven't been exposed to the information necessary to make a given decision (such as what soil to plant a strawberry in), I can't make the right decision for it effectively. If I have a chance to obtain the information, and my mind is healthy enough to absorb the new learning, then I still have to have the emotional patience to take the time to prepare the soil, or find the right soil, and handle it gently enough to make the seeds safe. So I see intelligence as learning ability, and wisdom as applied knowledge. I don't see them as an exclusive-or... Clearly if I am capable of learning deep material in a shorter amount of time, that gives me MORE opportunity to gain and apply field-specific knowledge. I say field-specific knowledge, but I also include in that human relations. I'm finding that human interaction is also a knowledge skill - and I can get better at it by learning from someone who is better at it than I am (communication, emotional space, understanding and respecting boundaries, supporting mutual growth, reading body language, asking good questions - all can be learned). In some cultures, those things are modeled and taught throughout life, perhaps even when the children are so young that they don't remember ever being formally taught... but modeling is teaching too. In other cultures, large pieces of those skills may be missing/lost. (Example, the poverty culture I grew up in was missing a lot of human interaction knowledge, but as I started to connect with upper-middle class people, I saw that these things were modeled or taught when my peers were children.) So... potential to learn, versus applied (past tense) knowledge... I don't think they're exclusive in any way. I do think that there are a lot of opportunity factors that influence the accumulation of knowledge, beyond just intelligence; economic class is certainly a factor in getting access to the knowledge to start with. Posted by skywind8 at 11:30am on 15 Mar 2007
Post a comment

Is the year AD1991 in the future or the past?

Remember personal info?

Valid XHTML 1.0!