Thomas W. Meeks, Dilip V. Jeste

Wisdom, a unique human attribute rich in history dating back to the dawn of civilization, is a newcomer to the world of empirical research. For centuries, wisdom was the sole province of religion and philosophy. A standard philosophical definition of wisdom pertains to judicious application of knowledge, and most religions have considered it a virtue. Wisdom is thought to be a complex construct, with several subcomponents. While the relative emphasis on specific subcomponents has varied across cultures and periods, there have been more similarities than differences among different postulated concepts of wisdom. While classic Greek writings on wisdom focused on rationality, early Indian and Chinese thinkers stressed emotional balance. Yet, these conceptualizations of wisdom shared several common features, such as thoughtful decision making, compassion, altruism, and insight. Excellent accounts of the history of the concept of wisdom are available.

4 thoughts on “Thomas W. Meeks, Dilip V. Jeste

  1. shinichi Post author

    Neurobiology of Wisdom

    A Literature Overview

    by Thomas W. Meeks and Dilip V. Jeste


    In Greek, philos-sophia = lover of wisdom.


    In the 19th century, Gall, who popularized the pseudoscience of phrenology, included among its 27 mental functions “comparative sagacity,” at times called wisdom, and assigned it to prefrontal regions. It was, however, only a few decades ago that sociology, psychology, and gerontology began considering wisdom as a subject worthy of discussion, albeit a controversial one. Erikson suggested that the last stage of his 8-stage theory of psychosocial development, from about age 65 years to death, centered on conflict resolution between ego integrity and despair, with successful resolution culminating in wisdom. In the 1970s, Baltes et al, Clayton, and others initiated empirical research in this area. Although the initial western theories of wisdom focused on cognitive abilities, Ardelt and others drew attention to the importance of emotional self-regulation. The evolving modern conceptualization of wisdom bears remarkable similarities to some of the oldest concepts of wisdom postulated in the Bhagavad Gita, an Indian religious text written several centuries BC.

    Recent years have witnessed paradigm shifts in medicine, moving the spotlight from disease to health, from treatment to prevention, and from risk factors to protective factors. Similarly, several positive psychological constructs have attracted growing academic interest as psychiatry has begun to appreciate the need for studying protective psychological traits such as resilience, instead of a singular focus on psychopathology. A few mental health researchers have noted the value of examining wisdom. There are now several scales for assessing wisdom, with variable psychometric properties. Overall, literature on wisdom continues to expand. … the number of articles on the construct of wisdom found in a PubMed database search using the keyword “wisdom” has increased 7-fold from the 1970s through 2008. The topic of wisdom is also being discussed in prominent lay media, clinical medicine, and learning theories.

    The following overview is based on our interpretation of the literature on wisdom. It clearly would be unwise of us to claim this interpretation as a definitive model. Our goal is to stimulate discourse and research in an important but neglected area of investigation. Subsequent empirical research may lead to substantial revision or even repudiation of the putative model we describe herein.

    Although there is no consensual definition of wisdom, we believe that wisdom is a unique psychological construct, not just a collection of desirable traits with a convenient unifying label. Wisdom may be viewed as a trait comprising several subcomponents. We searched the published literature on wisdom to identify definitions and found 10 major definitions or descriptions. Despite some variations in terms, we (T.W.M. and D.V.J.) agreed that the following 6 subcomponents of wisdom were included in at least 3 of these definitions:

    (1) prosocial attitudes/behaviors,
    (2) social decision making/pragmatic knowledge of life,
    (3) emotional homeostasis,
    (4) reflection/self-understanding,
    (5) value relativism/tolerance, and
    (6) acknowledgment of and dealing effectively with uncertainty/ambiguity.

    Figure 2 presents these subcomponents along with the researchers who included them as a part of their descriptions of wisdom. A few authors have emphasized other domains of wisdom, such as religiosity, intuition, or epistemology, but these were not included in at least 3 of the earlier-mentioned definitions.

    Figure 2. Commonly proposed subcomponents of wisdom.

  2. shinichi Post author

    Table 2 summarizes the role of various brain regions in promoting prosocial behavior (along with the other wisdom subcomponents described later). Prosocial behaviors are facilitated by empathy (rooted in mirror neurons and MPFC) and include social cooperation and altruism (tied to reward neurocircuitry and variations in monoaminergic/hypothalamic peptide functioning).

    Table 2. Putative Neuroanatomical Localization of Cognitive or Emotional Tasks Relevant to Wisdom

  3. shinichi Post author

    Is wisdom in the brain?

    by Jordan Lite

    Some of us look for wisdom in the Bible, Plato or at Grandma’s knee. Dilip Jeste and his colleague Thomas Meeks are searching for it in the brain.

    Jeste and Meeks, both geriatric psychiatrists at the University of California, San Diego, hypothesize in the Archives of General Psychiatry that wisdom, or at least the execution of its attributes, can be found in the brain’s primitive limbic system as well as its more evolutionarily advanced prefrontal cortex.

    Wisdom for centuries has been a religious or philosophical concept that varies somewhat by culture. But Jeste tells that there is reason to believe that it’s rooted in neurobiology. He and Meeks pored through medical literature, locating 10 papers that defined wisdom. Based on commonalities in the research, the two proposed that wisdom is made up of the behaviors that reflect the good of the group, pragmatism, emotional balance, self-understanding, tolerance and the ability to deal with ambiguity. Then, based on those studies, they zeroed in on which neurotransmitters (the brain’s chemical messengers) were active and which parts of the brain light up on functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) when we behave wisely.

    “What was striking was that some regions appeared time and again,” Jeste says: the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (which is involved in control of emotions and processing ambiguity), the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (which is involved in empathy, morality, self-reflection and decision-making), the anterior cingulate (which is important to detecting conflict) and the limbic striatum (part of the brain’s reward system).

    Jeste describes those regions’ roles in wisdom this way: “The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is like a proverbial father: a disciplinarian, cold, calculating, rationale. The ventromedial prefrontal cortex is probably like a mother: kind, nice, helpful, sociable, emotional. The anterior cingulate is the proverbial uncle who when you have a fight between father and mother, you go to your uncle. The limbic striatum is a friend, a reward system.”

    “If you look at it in this fashion, it makes sense to have a balance among these regions to lead to something akin to wisdom,” he says. “You need cold, calculating rationality but also emotional sociableness. You need to have rewards for what you do and punishments for what you don’t do and conflict detection and resolution.”

    Jeste and Meeks concede that some might call their conclusions reductionistic because they based their “map” not on the idea that wisdom is a single trait, but a collection of attributes. But Jeste said that similarities between how wisdom was portrayed thousands of years ago in the Bhagavad Gita (a Hindu scripture) and in the West today — as well as the tale of Phineas Gage, a railway worker whose allegedly wise attributes such as amiability and good judgment were said to vanish after a spike penetrated his left frontal lobe — “makes you think it’s not a cultural phenomenon but biologically consistent.”

  4. shinichi Post author


    Wisdom という単語から、なにを感じるか、なにを考えるかが、知恵という単語から感じたり考えることと違うために、Thomas W. Meeks と Dilip V. Jeste が書いたことは、英語圏以外の人たちには、もうひとつピンとこない。



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