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“Wisdom is neither a question of belief nor of knowledge, but of the agreement of our thinking with the primordial images of the unconscious.” – Carl Jung

From the relics of the past to the extensive literature of today, from casual conversations to intellectual discussions, the denotation of wisdom can be both mind-blowing and mind-boggling. Wisdom that depicts the highest and best attribute of human beings. Wisdom that encapsulates the logical reasoning of inherent knowledge. Wisdom of the enlightened and of the salvaged. Wisdom of the tribe who has finally spoken. Wisdom of the old and wisdom of the child. Boundless as the sky, seamless as the sea – Wisdom can be equated to the very being of life. Where there is wisdom, there is life – a meaningful life for one and for all.

In his article “Wisdom, Consciousness, and the Future”, Thomas Lombardo defined wisdom as “the highest expression of self-development and future consciousness. It is the “continually evolving understanding of and fascination with the big picture of life, of what is important, ethical, and meaningful, and the desire and creative capacity to apply this understanding to enhance the well-being of life, both for oneself and others.” Cohesively, more than a century ago, Carl Jung posited wisdom as a state of mind, more specifically, the state of abundant happiness, “Indeed bitterness and wisdom form a pair of alternatives: where there is bitterness, wisdom is lacking, and where there is wisdom, there can be no bitterness”. This denotation of Jung’s literally aligns with the archaic postulation during the Mesopotamia civilization of when wisdom was a depiction of happiness and survival (Mesopotamia, 3100 B.C.), the epoch when Sumerians formed their early communities and wrote reflections and stories on clay tablets that were related to among others the Teachings of Shiruppak, which dwelled on the fundamentals of a happy life.

Over the passage of time, sages and philosophers presented confluent insights of wisdom as the apex of virtue, as the crest of knowledge acquisition and as the pinnacle of experiences of scholars and the learned in a particular era. Ancient Greece, for example, is not only famed for its gods and demons but also for the Big Three philosophers. The Hellenistic Period (323BC – 30BC) was lauded for Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, of whom were epitomes of wisdom and highly revered for their sagaciousness. They personified how notable scholars gained precedence with their scientific knowledge of the era, articulating intuitive reasoning, exemplifying truths and discerning justice. The axis of wisdom then, was “Seek and you shall find”, and this profound proposition remains paramount to this day. Inquiry into the search for knowledge resonates altruistically across all cultures, all faiths and all races. In Southeast Asia, namely Malaysia and Singapore, the maxim of “If you don’t ask (for the way), you will be lost” and “If you don’t row (your boat), you will drift (off your course)”, illustrate the strong fervour of the initiation of knowledge-seeking in nurturing wisdom. Thus, by and large, wisdom implies the acquisition of the right knowledge, discernment and effectuation of rationalised actions towards enlightenment.

Yet over decades and centuries, the attainment of wisdom has become ever more paradoxical while nonetheless, achievable. Contemporary historian and philosopher, Yuval Noah Harari quotes in his bestseller 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, that wisdom of homo sapiens in the 21st century involves the insight of knowing oneself. He asserts that “As biotechnology and machine learning improve, it will become easier to manipulate people’s deepest emotions and desires, and it will become more dangerous than ever to just follow your succeed in such a daunting task, you will need to work very hard on getting to know your operating system better. To know what you are, and what you want from life. This is, of course, the oldest advice in the book: know thyself.” Consistently, in an age where algorithms reign supreme, where bots and machines are designed to sense our intentions and motivations, it would be wise to optimise introspection and enhance innate capacities. Wisdom is about enhancing control of our desires and making reasoned decisions, be it in times of bliss or in times of crisis.

One of the leading contemporary Muslim intellectuals in Islamic Futures Thinking, Ziauddin Sardar contends that wisdom relates to the ways in which one makes decisions and acts, based on one’s experiences, knowledge and reasoning. Likewise, Professor Syed Muhammad Naquib AlAttas, a contemporary Muslim philosopher concurs that wisdom is the application of discreet knowledge, the absence of which will lead to confusion and injustice to oneself. Contextually, wisdom is the pinnacle of human virtues that stems from discreet reasoning and sound judgement. These capacities distinguish humans from other beings – the abilities to act wisely and to judge what is and what is not wise. Consequently, with the passing of time and advancement of knowledge which is aided by the sophistication of technology, the manifestation of wisdom is manifested through the contribution of various prolific theories and scholarship. From intuitive reasoning to incisive application of knowledge to pervasive life experience, the crux of wisdom solidifies with the emergence of new intelligence - natural and artificial. Charles Dickens’ exemplification in his 19th century’s The Tale of Two Cities, renders a vivid imagery of the challenges in manifesting wisdom, especially in the 21st century. Dickens enthused that “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” Wisdom today is more than just making the right decision. It is about navigating or overcoming increasingly complex global challenges. It is about traversing a crossroad between sagacity and catastrophes. It invokes a momentous leap from individual wisdom to collective wisdom, a definitive “We are wiser than me”, an increased discernment of the indispensable tripartite of being – human, nature and technology. It is about closing the perilous gap between exponential knowledge and wisdom in making sound judgements.

Neglecting wisdom in this Anthropocene era is a grave mistake. It is a dichotomous do or die. Robert Sternberg, the former president of the American Psychological Association, warned “if there is anything the world needs, it is wisdom. Without it, I exaggerate not at all in saying that very soon there may be no world…”. A daunting image of dystopia looms in the backdrop of waning wisdom. The extension of wisdom calls for imperative cultivation. And for decades more, people will continue to seek the conduits to wisdom - how best and how fast can we manifest wisdom? Can predictions expedite wisdom? Can premonitions prompt the transcendence of wisdom, specifically in influencing our choices or decisions? Can predestination impel wisdom, challenging the bleak acceptance that while all actions and achievements are dependent on the will of God, we are bestowed with the astuteness to choose – the good from the bad?

Here and now, as wisdom is a human attribute, its futures will solely reside in the heart and soul of humans and be realised through propitious actions. The meta perspectives of wisdom from primordial relics to contemporary literature all affirm it as a prized human virtue. It is the pulse of civilization, the push of development and the flare of benevolence – all of which are imperatives in the attainment of the simple utilitarian aim of general happiness and sources of wellbeing. The futures of wisdom grow from wise individuals who are cognizant of their fullest potential qua human nature, many of whom have a purpose to contribute towards a halcyon utopia for all living beings. The futures of wisdom lie in the conscience of humans who use their special faculties as well as their general intelligence to create better learning, reminiscing and understanding - so that they, from thereon, can transcend from the confines of darkness (ignorance) towards the promising light (wisdom).

“Everything now depends on man; immense power of destruction is given into his hands, and the question is whether he can resist the will to use it and can temper his will with the spirit of love and wisdom.” – Carl Jung.

© Fazidah Ithnin 2021

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