The scientific approach to wisdom has started to gain momentum only in the past few decades, around the time the world started to face rising social and climatic instabilities. Some worried that this momentum was leading to an abyss. Picking and choosing different philosophical traditions and developing theories without serious debate between them placed wisdom scientists at the beginning of the 21st century at loggerheads: a field full of words didn’t yet share the same language. A recent handbook of wisdom included as many definitions of the concept as there were chapters. Like in a tower of Babylon, scholars were risking a collapse of a slowly emerging scientific field.
I was one of the many scientists on the trail of wisdom and its meaning, and I was worried about these trends. But, like most scholars, I first kept quiet. Then, a deadly series of events woke me up from my academic slumber. On Easter Sunday 2019, suicide bombers across Sri Lanka orchestrated one of the world’s most fatal coordinated terrorist attacks in a decade, killing more than 250 people in several cities. What is the value of wisdom in a polarised world full of violence and hate? How can we use wisdom to combat these trends? Like so many people in the tragic aftermath of those bombings in Sri Lanka, I wondered about these questions. The attacks affected me personally, too. The first Pan-Asian summit on wisdom, which I had helped to organise, was supposed to take place in Sri Lanka just a month later.
Khaled Mattawa’s latest poetry collection Fugitive Atlas is a powerful reminder that the migrant crisis is an ongoing reality with profound effects on those who suffer directly from displacement and on humanity at large.
In spite of its short length, the novel gets at something deeper and, in its emphasis on where individuals choose to direct their attention, something more quintessentially American. If you were magically freed from all your digital obligations, how would you occupy yourself? If you had the option, would you choose it?
The first thing to know about Judith Flanders’s “A Place for Everything: The Curious History of Alphabetical Order” is that its subtitle is misplaced. The true subject of this fascinating though relentlessly detailed book is the history of information retrieval, chiefly in Europe and America, up to the age of the computer. To this end, Ms. Flanders has collected enough material on her subject to fill all the ingenious cabinets and filing devices found in the book’s illustrations. The plethora of detail often overwhelms the truly revelatory dimension of the work: the way the alphabet reflected and facilitated the change from a worldview that saw reality as having intrinsic meaning, with hierarchy as its underlying organizing principle, to one that was essentially nominalist, with the human mind inventing tools for organizing it usefully.