From Knowledge to Wisdom

June 26th, 2012

What IS intelligence? It’s definitely more than IQ, logic and memory. Is intelligence the ability to think outside the box? Is it the ability to empathize with those outside of your circle or experience? Is intelligence the ability to hold multiple perspectives in mind at the same time?

A recent study has shown that people with high IQ’s are not so smart after all. Take this simple arithmetic question; a bat and a ball cost a dollar and ten cents. The bat costs a dollar more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?

Most people answer confidently that the ball costs ten cents but in fact the correct answer is 5 cents for the ball and a dollar and five cents for the bat.

Get this- more than fifty percent of students at Harvard, Princeton and MIT gave the incorrect answer to this question.

So what’s the problem with intelligent people?

Journalist and author Jonah Lehrer has an interesting theory. He says that smart people can be too smart for their own good. They have the ability to rationalize their own blind spots while being very critical of the blind spots in others. Intelligent people have the ability to create a story that prevents them from seeing their own prejudices. In effect they outsmart themselves.

Incidentally, Lehrer himself was in hot water last week for self plagiarizing. He was reusing material in different publications putting his new job at The New Yorker in jeopardy. His attempts at efficiency may be a prime illustration of his own theory. He may have outsmarted himself.

The philosopher William James famously said,

A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.

Two people are sitting next to each other on an airplane. One asks if the other wants to play a game. She says she’s tired and wants to sleep. He is persistent. “I will ask you a question”, he says “and if you get the answer wrong you give me $5. You ask me a question and if I get the answer wrong, I give you $5.” Again she declines. “Okay”, he says, “Lets raise the stakes. If I get the answer wrong I will give you $500. If you get it wrong, you only give me $5. She gives in just to shut him up.

He asks the first question, “What’s the distance from the earth to the moon?”
The women reaches into her purse and hands him $5.
“Okay,” says the man, “your turn.”
She asks him, “What goes up a hill with three legs and comes down with four legs?”
The man puzzles over this. He gets his laptop out, googles it, calls a friend on the in-flight phone and after an hour finally gives in and hands the woman $500.
The woman says, “Thank you,” and turns back to get some sleep.
The man turns and asks, “Well, what’s the answer?”
Without a word, she reaches in her purse, hands him $5.00, and goes off to sleep.

No doubt she had sweet dreams on that flight. She was wise. The man thought he was being smart but may have outsmarted himself. As Jimi Hendrix said, “Knowledge talks. Wisdom listens.”

It’s great to be informed and as intelligent as possible. But we want more than IQ, and we want to guard against the blind spots of intelligence.

My favorite description of wisdom comes from the German theologian Dietrick Bonhoeffer. He spoke about finding the significant in the factual. I love this because it acknowledges the factual but says that finding facts is not the end of the story. To think that Bonhoeffer said this at the height of Nazi dominance, with their advanced technological intelligence but lack of moral intelligence, is mind blowing.

Being informed is necessary. Being intelligent is helpful. Being wise is essential. Wisdom is a deft combination of multiple intelligences.

IQ is head smart. Emotional intelligence (EQ) understands the feelings behind facts. This is heart smart. Spiritual intelligence (SQ) is the mind’s meaning maker. It connects IQ and EQ by discerning what is significant and why. This is where moral intelligence comes from, as well as a sense of purpose. Another name for SQ is wisdom. Wisdom is street smart. It has its own way of knowing that combines all your years of experience and marshals the best team of feelings, skills and knowledge for each occasion.

This has practical application in any life situation. Whether you are solving a mathematical puzzle, a relationship challenge or a personal crisis, apply your full arsenal of resources. Think of it like a police lineup.

Line up all the factors as you see them, all the facts, feelings, perspectives and questions. Watch that you don’t just pull the usual suspects, because then you are just rearranging your prejudices. See the whole line up, listen to what ALL of them have to say, discern what is significant and why, and then let your intuitive wisdom do its thing.

Your body’s wisdom is instinct. Your heart’s wisdom is emotion. Your mind’s wisdom is knowledge. Your higher self’s wisdom is intuition. Intuition works with, beneath and between the facts.

The great concert violinist Isaac Stern was once asked why musicians who play the same notes in the same order can sound so different. He said

It isn’t the notes that are important, it’s the intervals between the notes.

Intuitive wisdom often comes from noticing the spaces between events, words, feelings. That’s where wisdom gets her larger perspective. She defocuses your habitual sight, such as when you look at a 3D image. With wisdom, you wait for clarity, rather than forcing it. This takes you out of your logical mind and leaves you receptive to whatever arises.

Lao Tzu said,

Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power.

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  1. butterflyb says:

    “Knowledge talks. Wisdom listens.” 

  2. [...] articles by other notable bloggers. One blog that I personally follow and enjoy quite a bit is SoulSeeds.com. This is a blog author by Ian and Meg Lawton in which they focus on individual growth. They offer [...]

  3. Charlotte says:

    Thank you for this very informative article. We liked it so much that we showcased in in our ‘Sharing the Love’ series on our blog. You can check it out here: http://lifeandworkinbalance.com/home/home/?p=1592

  4. [...] From Knowledge to Wisdom. Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this.   [...]

  5. I’ve done a good deal of thinking about this issue.


    From my book How to Be Free :


    It is said that most of us only use 10% of our brain’s capacity. This is because our thinking is impeded by our character armour.  Since thinking truthfully would destroy our armoured ego structure, we have to spend a huge amount of our intellectual ability on finding ways to function without thinking truthfully.

 A good example of this is the theory in evolutionary biology which interprets human behaviour in terms of the genes’ need to reproduce. (See The Moral Animal : Why We Are the Way We Are : The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology by Robert Wright (Vintage, 1995).) Unable to think truthfully and acknowledge that we are suffering psychologically and that self-directed awareness is the natural response of an organism to suffering, some of us had to find another way to explain (i.e. justify) this aspect of our behaviour. But if one tries to explain human behaviour by reference to animal behaviour in this way one ends up with a complex unwieldy theory which strives to explain everything from Shakespeare writing his plays to the Pope wearing a ridiculously large hat as outgrowths of the genes’ struggle to proliferate. It takes a huge amount of intellectual effort to build and maintain such a complex alternative to admitting that we have become sick. And, of course, the only individuals who pay any attention to such ridiculous theories are intellectuals.



  6. Kenneth Vogt says:

    As long as I can remember people have been telling me how smart I am. It took me 40 years to figure out what a liability this has been. I now say, “Smart ain’t all it’s cracked up to be.” Don’t get me wrong, it’s good to have knowledge and to be able to efficiently process it. The power of reason is strong indeed. But then it becomes a barrier to further growth. Not everything can be reasoned out, or measured, or processed. There is a greater reality and a larger truth beyond reason. It is not instead of reason but rather beyond it. Smart is a horizon. Be smart enough to know that their is something over the horizon.

  7. “….smart people can be too smart for their own good. They have the ability to rationalize their own blind spots while being very critical of the blind spots in others. Intelligent people have the ability to create a story that prevents them from seeing their own prejudices.”
    This is so true! I work in addictions. Many wonderful, very intelligent people are functional in every aspect of their own lives, EXCEPT their use of drugs or alcohol. It’s truly amazing how blind we can be to certain aspects of our own behaviors.

  8. Sue Senchuk says:

    On the faculty of meditation  “…There is a sign from God in every phenomenon: the sign of the intellect is contemplation and the sign of contemplation is silence….”You cannot apply the name ‘man’ to any being devoid of this faculty of meditation…”-From the Baha’i Writings 

  9. [...] I encourage reading the rest of this post, and exploring the resource of Ian’s thoughtful blog at: http://www.soulseeds.com/grapevine/2012/06/from-knowledge-to-wisdom/ [...]

  10. So true! For someone who believes that their intelligence comprises much of their identity and self-worth, it can be very difficult to admit that they are unaware of something. 

  11. […] I encourage reading the rest of this post, and exploring the resource of Ian’s thoughtful blog at: http://www.soulseeds.com/grapevine/2012/06/from-knowledge-to-wisdom/ […]