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Wisdom: From Philosophy to Neuroscience Hardcover – Deckle Edge, March 9, 2010


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1 edition (March 9, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307269108
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307269102
  • Product Dimensions: 1.3 x 6.5 x 10 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #481,309 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Definitions of wisdom abound in Hall’s exploration of the concept, which he reports is no longer the exclusive domain of theology and philosophy. Clinical psychology and neurobiology have elbowed their way into the subject in recent decades, and their investigations and investigators make up much of Hall’s work. An author of several books about human physiology (Size Matters: How Height Affects the Health, Happiness, and Success of Boys, 2006), Hall details brain-scan experiments intended to elucidate at a neuronal level components of wisdom such as ethics and also cites studies that rely on interviews with older people about their life experiences. From the author’s accounts, it doesn’t seem as though the scientist in the lab coat offers better definitions of wisdom than the sage in the toga. An essential ineffability about wisdom dogs both the empiricist and the theorist, according to Hall, but, not willing to concede futility in the hunt for wisdom, he suggests it is to be sought in family life and interpersonal relationships—a practical proposition on which his readers can reflect. --Gilbert Taylor

Review

"Wisdom is a golden-ticket tour of the human mind, in all its dimensions, led by one of the most insightful and trustworthy science journalists we've ever had. This book is a feast, not a snack. Get ready to digest more smart brain science than you ever thought possible." -David Shenk, author of The Forgetting and The Genius in All of Us.

"Astonishingly wise, incredibly well written and most importantly wonderfully synthetic. One can disagree with some of the parts but few will disagree with the whole. Wisdom is still with us."    —Michael Gazzaniga
 
"Steve Hall has done it again. He masterfully explains how 'wisdom' comes out of the brain without oversimplifying this enormously complex topic."    —Joseph LeDoux

“An attractively fluent, ebullient style…he has tackled a highly interesting but difficult topic with gusto.” –Barnes and Noble review
 
“Compelling…Hall knows how to hook a reader, set up his subject, and most importantly, follow through in a smart, entertaining manner. Wisdom is straightforward, but always engaging and entertaining...Hall manages this quite neatly, intertwining science reporting, philosophy, and just plain great writing to make readers feel, if not wise themselves, then at least as if they understand what wisdom might be.” –bookotron.com
 
“A fascinating attempt to understand one of our most cherished—but least well-understood-aspirations.” –Seed Magazine
 
“A sharply honed work of ‘biographical journalism’ unique in its multiplicity of perspectives, contextual richness, and astute analysis…a spectacularly encompassing, analytical, and dramatic portrait.” –Booklist, starred review

“Utterly engaging…Hall’s work as a translator and intermediary between the humanities and the hard neurosciences is in itself a feat of extraordinary mental balance and understanding.” –The Post and Courier

“With the flair of an experienced science journalist, Hall takes us on a rollicking interdiscinplinary journey through the ages, blending modern science, history and philosophy…an engaging gallop through the centuries and across world cultures…highly readable.” –Nature Neuroscience

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Customer Reviews

Very reader friendly on a topic of interest to me.
J. Shabel
And although, it is definitely not a "how-to" book, you will probably have many "ah-ha" moments as you read it.
Barbara Blair
And as Hall states, just thinking about that question will start to change your life for the better.
margaret plews-Ogan MD

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

56 of 60 people found the following review helpful By Vivian Clayton on March 18, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Stephen Hall's book on Wisdom manages to integrate the empirical research that's been conducted over the last thirty-five years in a style and convivial manner that has eluded the scientific community. I felt the book delivered on its promise: it offered much information about the ways we go about making complex life decisions. It reflected honestly on the real life shortcomings of people who have always been perceived as wise historically, such as Solomon. In my opinion, the best part of the book was delivered by offering examples of how adopting a wisdom based approach can affect how things are done in settings such as the classroom and the boardroom.

This is not a "How to be wise" manual. If you like labyrinths, and recognize that many paths can lead to the center of things, this is the book for you. Like many portraits in an art gallery, you will find yourself pausing at various junctures to look more carefully at this or that quality of wisdom - be it patience, humility or compassion. Fortunately, there is no 'closing time' to this gallery. At the end of my visit, I personally felt a sense of gratitude that a writer could capture such an illusive topic without diminishing its potential for further study in matters both personal and societal.

----Vivian Clayton, PhD
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Alice P. on May 3, 2010
Format: Hardcover
What I really liked about this book is that I went away from it with a deeper sense of what wisdom means to me rather than some universal understanding of the meaning of wisdom. If you choose to read this book you will likely take in the research, stories, and various perspectives on wisdom with your personal experience in mind, and that is one reason why this book is a fulfilling read. At the onset Hall discusses the elusiveness of wisdom, yet emphasizes that simply because wisdom has normally evaded scientists that science, as well as philosophy, can tell us a great deal about it. The neuroscience research he references are given meaning and substance through real-life examples and philosophical viewpoints.

If you are looking for wisdom to be concretized or for a "how to" manual you will be disappointed. If you want to think differently about a subject science and philosophy will likely never be able to get a full grapple on, but can tell us a lot about, you'll get a great deal out of this book.
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40 of 51 people found the following review helpful By Ray Gardner on July 14, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Not a bad read, but it's really the same book as the other most recent ones of the same genre. Gladwell, Iyengar, Poundstone, Lehrer et al. They all start with the same pattern; cite well known research that is beyond question - usually Kahneman and Tversky - then weave anecdotes throughout to create a narrative that gives the impression that the anecdotes are as equally well grounded as the real research.

The book is worth reading if one hasn't already read any of the other authors mentioned above (or one of the many other unnamed) but it really is just one more of the same cookie cutter mold.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Book Fanatic TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 20, 2011
Format: Paperback
I could not disagree more with Ray Gardner's review that this is the same material or even type of book as those he mentioned. That is an atrocious appraisal of the book and seems to represent an incredibly shallow reading of it. Just because Hall looks to some possible neural correlates of what he calls "Pillars of Wisdom" does not mean he is doing the same thing as Gladwell et al. Read the media or other reviews above if you want a better idea.

This was an outstanding book that indeed as Nature Neuroscience says:

"..takes us on a rollicking interdiscinplinary journey through the ages, blending modern science, history and philosophy..."

This book is highly recommended and can be read and thought about quite deeply. It is not at all of the pop-Gladwellian genre. It is itself a wise book.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Adam Rourke author of The Goblin Universe on August 11, 2010
Format: Hardcover
In this book Stephen S. Hall takes on one of life's most perplexing questions. What is wisdom and how does this lump of gray matter we call a brain produce it. Drawing on the work of philosophers, theologians, and now scientists Mr. Hall attempts to synthesis all of their output into a coherent answer. Philosophers and theologians have wrestled with this question for thousands of years but science has taken up the search much more recently. And it is the research done by neuroscientists that is the focus of this work.

The book itself is constructed in a fairly common style which consists of a series of well known research papers embedded within a cluster of anecdotes. Mr. Hall seems to hold all of this research in more awe than it perhaps deserves. For when looked at dispassionately it can be seen that, while some of the work is first rate, some comes off as mere hubris. The discovery that the mind has a biological base is hardly a revelation. Likewise finding out that sometimes people allow emotions to cloud their judgment is not much of a discovery either. For the problem that any scientific study faces is that wisdom is an experience not a thing and an experience is more suited to the dialectic of philosophy than to the reductionism of science. Discovering where an event is occurring is not the same thing as discovering what it is. One neuron firing is exactly like any other neuron firing. So how does this neuron firing create sight and another doing the identical thing create sound? Having said this it must be admitted that his sins are no greater than is common in an age that elevated science to the pedestal of all knowing.
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