The pursuit, development, and exercise of wisdom should be the guiding light in the purposeful evolution of the conscious human mind and our collective human society. We should aspire toward becoming wiser individuals and creating an ever-evolving "Wise Society." Wisdom is the pathway toward constructively and most effectively addressing our numerous contemporary problems and challenges, and it provides the most enlightening and inspiring ideal for a vision of a bright and positive future (See my book Wisdom, Consciousness, and the Future
). Numerous futurists, scientists, philosophers, educators, and pundits argue that what we need today, above all else, is much greater wisdom in guiding our thinking and actions on our journey into the future. It is frequently stated that wisdom is what we most sorely lack in our times, and indeed our paucity of wisdom, whether collectively or as exhibited in many of our leaders, is what has gotten us into the many difficulties in which we find ourselves today.
If wisdom is so important then, what is it? Further, why are we so deficient in it? And how do we go about enhancing this most critical of human capacities?
In answering these questions, I will start from the main point of my previous Future Consciousness Insights
essay: Through our capacity for future consciousness we are capable of purposefully evolving ourselves. Through anticipation, foresight, goal setting, planning, purposeful action, and other dimensions of future consciousness, we direct the flow of evolutionary change within us and around us. This multi-faceted ability is our most distinctive and empowering human trait. Indeed, it is the essence of our human nature to be purposefully evolving beings.
Yet, although we all possess the capacity for purposeful evolution through future consciousness, how well we exercise and develop this capacity is a function of our own decision-making and efforts. Since our power to generate purposeful evolution is a consequence of possessing future consciousness, how well we purposefully evolve ourselves (and the world around us) will depend upon how much we heighten and exercise our future consciousness. Creative and flexible imagination, thoughtful planning, critical self-reflective thinking, the acquisition of knowledge and the passionate pursuit of learning, and the development of tenacity and deep purpose are all virtues of heightened future consciousness that support purposeful evolution. All these capacities can be enhanced, but the development of these virtues requires self-initiated and committed life-long effort. Do we choose to evolve ourselves as best as we can, and do we intentionally practice and strengthen all the psychological dimensions of future consciousness or not? Purposeful evolution is a power that can be enhanced or left to wither on the vine.
As I have explained in Future Consciousness: The Path to Purposeful Evolution
, wisdom is the highest expression of future consciousness. When we examine those psychological abilities connected with heightened future consciousness, they align very well with the character virtues often associated with wisdom. The love and skill of learning and thinking, expansive consciousness, creative imagination, hopeful realistic optimism, deep purpose in life, and the capacity to apply knowledge to the goals and challenges of life are all capacities of both wisdom and heightened future consciousness. Wisdom is the synthesis of the virtues or abilities of heightened future consciousness. As such, since enhancing our future consciousness empowers our capacity for purposeful evolution, wisdom is the key to best facilitating purposeful evolution.
If wisdom is the ideal we should strive to develop as integral to our purposeful evolution, then the path of evolving wisdom is also a choice that requires effort and practice. Wisdom is not a gift; wisdom is an accomplishment. Wisdom doesn't just happen to us any more than purposeful evolution does. As stated in the previous essay, we choose to evolve or not to evolve. We choose to become wiser or not to become wiser. In essence, we are self-responsible--through decision-making, effort, and practice--in our purposeful growth as humans and in our heightening of wisdom.
In describing the key character virtues of wisdom and heightened future consciousness, I have identified "self-responsibility" as a cardinal virtue. Unless we take responsibility for ourselves, our life, and our future, we cannot develop wisdom. The word "choice" implies freedom, which is self-empowering, but it also implies self-responsibility, meaning it is up to each of us to determine our evolutionary pathway and our growth in wisdom.
We can see then two connected reasons why we might be lacking in wisdom. Wisdom starts from taking responsibility for one's life, and we may run from this challenge; it is easier to blame or to depend on someone else for guidance and direction. Moreover, wisdom requires work; it is easier to "relax and enjoy life" or accept things as they are than to strive with tenacity and effort for something better. Wisdom is not a free lunch. But then, neither is our own purposeful evolution.
Another key reason why we are so lacking in wisdom is that wisdom is a psychological and ethical capacity--an ideal of the human mind. It is an ideal that our modern culture plays down these days, instead placing a great deal of emphasis on technological and economic factors as determining the good life (or the good future). Holding the view that a positive future requires our mental evolution runs counter to the popular philosophy of a materialistic culture and an economic theory of well-being. The relationship of technology and economics with well-being and personal development is complex, and I am not arguing against their importance. But, as I have stated, "Technological and economic development should serve our mental evolution and not vice versa." (Introduction to the Center for Future Consciousness
) Sadly, the evolution of our minds is neither our center of gravity nor our top priority in contemporary times.
In contrast to this popular mindset, I propose that the key both to addressing our current problems and creating a more inspiring and effective pathway into the future is to work on evolving our conscious minds. As I have previously stated, all of our problems today involve deficiencies in our conscious minds. Possessing the capacity for purposeful evolution, we should focus on purposefully evolving our minds and not just simply our gadgets or our economy. Indeed, whether we want to admit it or not, we are the creators of the whirling and complex world in which we find ourselves, the architects of modern civilization, of all its accomplishments and all its failings. Our minds have constructed this world, and improving our minds will improve our world.
When we imagine what ideal(s) we should aspire toward in the purposeful evolution of ourselves--what would make for an improved human being or human conscious mind--there are numerous possibilities that have been proposed throughout human history. It seems to me, though, that any viable concept (or ideal) serving as the guiding light for our ongoing purposeful evolution should be holistic, including all the major dimensions of the human conscious mind. Emotion, thinking, imagination, ethics and character, intelligence, aesthetics (the sense of beauty), desire and motivation, breadth of consciousness, and other key features of the human mind must all be included. The vision of super-smart, beautiful, techno-enhanced humans is too limiting and imbalanced an ideal for our tomorrow.
As an ideal for our purposeful evolution, wisdom is holistic, a synthesis of excellence within all the above dimensions of the human conscious mind. Wisdom encompasses intelligence and reflective thinking, but it is also ethically attuned and emotionally evolved. (It is another blind spot in contemporary culture that ethical character is not considered central to a good life, or indeed good leaders.) I have identified roughly a dozen key character virtues that make up wisdom, including self-responsibility, deep purpose in life, love and concern for others, and global and ecological consciousness. If we are to pursue the purposeful evolution of our conscious minds, then wisdom provides the best, most psychologically holistic ideal toward which we can aspire.
One straightforward way that we can enhance heightened future consciousness and wisdom is by focusing on developing the associated specific character virtues, such as self-responsibility, deep purpose, and the love and skill of learning and thinking. As I explain in depth in my book Future Consciousness
, all of these virtues involve skill or competence and build upon themselves through thoughtful and informed practice. Just as wisdom taken as a whole is an accomplishment built on self-initiated, dedicated effort, the development of any of the connected virtues follows a similar path. We can also develop wisdom by pursuing a "wisdom narrative," a life story we create for ourselves that is dedicated to wisdom. Simply put, we become wiser by purposefully striving toward the ideal of living a wise life and all that it entails.
As the famous biologist Julian Huxley stated, we are "nothing but evolution become conscious of itself." And the more contemporary biologist, John Stewart
, building upon this insight, argued that the overall goal of our future evolution should be learning how to evolve ourselves increasingly more effectively. We are purposefully evolving beings, and as such, the best that we can be involves the ongoing strengthening of our capacity for self-improvement, evolving how to evolve better. We are a journey rather than a destination, and our overall goal should be to enhance our abilities as creators and travelers on the river of time. The primary goal of our evolution is the enhancement of the evolutionary power of our conscious minds; this capacity is what defines our very nature, and it has been critical in the creation of our modern world. We must now employ it to facilitate the development of increasingly wiser individuals, leaders, and societies for guiding humanity's continuing journey.
Just as we have a choice to evolve or not to evolve, we have a choice to pursue or not pursue wisdom. But we don't have a choice in whether to make such choices or not. Because we are purposefully evolving beings, our pathway into tomorrow is a consequence of our choices. We are the architects of ourselves and our world, whether we like it or not. "We are moving" of our own volition, creating a pathway forward, whether we wish to acknowledge our responsibility, or not. We are creators and self-creators, whether we do so poorly, or do so well. The choice is ours. Let us develop that distinctive power we possess of purposeful evolution through heightening wisdom and our future consciousness.
As I have stated, "Wisdom is the highest expression of future consciousness. It is the personally internalized, continually evolving understanding of and fascination with the big picture and personal dimensions of life and their connection, and what is true and good, and the desire and creative capacity to apply this understanding to enhance (evolve) the well-being of life, both for ourselves individually and others."
Isn't this what we should aspire toward and practice in facing today and creating tomorrow?