Wisdom, where and when it can be found, is a much more heightened state of awareness than Greco-Roman logical thinking which is heavily focused on reaction and judgement. Wisdom is metacognition.
What is metacognition?
Metacognition is the highest state of awareness. It’s actually thinking about thinking. Or being aware that one is aware. Metacognition is being aware of one’s thinking and directing one’s thinking in a deliberate and strategic way.
Starting on May Day, the first of May 2012, School of Thinking began celebrating Metacognition Month.
I’m going to Rome via Doha this year. I’ve never been to Qatar before and I’m very interested to visit. One hears so many interesting things about Doha.
Anyway, when I was in Rome, this time last year, I wanted to acquire a new grey Borsalino to replace the one I had just lost.
That morning I’d got up early for a walk and climbed the Spanish Steps to gaze back at the stunning laser fanfare of sunrise over the cupolas of the Eternal City.
Then, early breakfast in the Palm Court at the Hassler has been a long-standing tradition for me on my Roman holidays so I chose my strategic table, laid out my International Tribune and sipped my tea.
An hour later, fully restored, I stepped out and headed towards Piazza del Populo now on my important mission for the morning. I was going to get my hat. I found my way to the elegant boutique. After introductions I carefully examined the shelves of exquisite chapeaux and tried on 4 or 5 of the famous felt fedoras.
O me miserum! The one I really wanted was not my size and the one that fit me was not the one I desired.
Disappointed. I missed out on that trip but I’ll be back late in June and this time I’m determined not to leave Rome without my grey felt Borsalino.
The experience of surviving for a complete generation through childhood, adolescence and adulthood endows knowledge and perspective that a young brain simply cannot match.
To achieve 50 years of survival, through two or more generations, allows the brain to build a database of experience which offers a perspective of history, an understanding of long term consequences, a faculty for prediction and a wisdom that cannot be acquired in any other way. It takes half a century.
Grey Hat Thinking is the ability to see consequences, immediate, short term and long term. It is the ability to look back over history and to see forward into the future. To understand cycles, passages of time, the passing of fashions, eras, eons and the many possible futures including extinction, the possibility of no future at all.
My mentor, Professor George Gallup, was acknowledged worldwide as one of the greatest leaders of change. George was also a wonderful American gentleman and a very nice man. He was 84 when he died at his place in Switzerland in 1984. He encouraged me personally and generously supported SOT by saying that he thought our work in teaching people to think, “may be the most important thing going on in the world”.
He was the inventor of the Gallup Poll at Princeton and the designer of market research. He was the first to map what today we might call ‘the Human Meme Pool’. George Gallup’s great personal wisdom was supported by his long experience of measuring, in scientific detail, the opinions of more people around the world than anyone else in history. In The Miracle Aheadhe wrote that:
Change cannot be brought about easily by leaders, except in those situations in which the changes advocated do not disturb present relationships. In fact, it is the leaders who typically become the most bitter and the most effective foes of change. The public, therefore, must take the initiative and assume responsibility for progress in the affairs of man. The public must force change upon its leaders (who) command more respect today than perhaps they deserve… The leader is expert in his small world as it presently exists, not expert in the world as it might be. Although he plays an important role in modern society, it is not realistic to expect him to advocate change. This is the surest way for him to lose his status … The hope of the future rests with the citizen. To be effective, he must be well informed, and he must discover ways of making better use of his own great capacities and those of his fellow man. He cannot expect his leaders to give him much help in his upward march.
Grey Hat Thinking also means the wisdom to see other points of view. It includes the sagacity of patience to see beyond one’s own immediate viewpoint and the wisdom to see the viewpoints of others involved in situations: your partner’s viewpoint, your children’s, your children’s children, your neighbour’s, your customer’s, your enemy’s.
The wisdom of Grey Hat Thinking comes from long term survival. One of the world’s most remarkable survivors is Elizabeth II who is the Queen of Australia. She is currently celebrating sixty years in her job with big celebrations planned around the Commonwealth. She says: “One of the features of growing old is a heightened awareness of change. To remember what happened 50 years ago means that it is possible to appreciate what has changed in the meantime. It also makes you aware of what has remained constant. In my experience, the positive value of a happy family is one of the factors of human existence that hasn’t changed. The immediate family of grandparents, parents and children together with their extended family is still the core of a thriving community. When Prince Philip and I celebrated our Diamond Wedding Anniversary last month we were much aware of the affection and support of our own family as they gathered around us for the occasion.”
Grey (Gray: US) Hat Thinking is the wisdom that emerges from the hard won, labour-intensive experience gained from having to solve life’s wide range of random and unexpected problems and having survived through multi-changing environments over several generations and for an extended period of time.
The long-term wisdom of Grey Hat Thinking may also be useful in raising one’s conciousness of Black Swans.
The other day, looking at my gray beard that makes me look ten years older than my true age, and the pleasure I derived from exhibiting it, I realized the following. Effectively, the respect for the elder in many societies might be compensation for our short-term memory. Senate come from senatus, aging in Latin; sheikh in Arabic means both member of the ruling elite and “elder”.
These people had to be repositories of more complicated inductive learning that included information about rare events —in a narrow evolutionary sense they can be deemed be useless since they are past their procreative age, so they have to offer some antidote to the turkey problem and prevent the less experienced members of the tribe from being suckers. In fact the elders can scare us with a story — which is why we become overexcited when we think of a specific Black Swan.
I was excited to find out that this also held in the animal domain: a paper in Science shows that elephant matriarch fill the role of super-advisors on rare events.
In the US a person who is often admired for both her philanthropy and her own brand of wisdom is Oprah Gail Winfrey. She has claimed, “Books were my pass to personal freedom. I learned to read at age three, and soon discovered there was a whole world to conquer that went beyond our farm in Mississippi”.
Oprah’s Angel Network has raised more than $51,000,000 for the underprivileged around the world. Behind the scenes Winfrey personally donates more of her own money to charity than any other show-business celebrity in America. In 2005 she became the first black person listed by Business Week as one of America’s top 50 most generous philanthropists, having given an estimated $303 million.
Winfrey has also invested $40 million establishing the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls near Johannesburg, South Africa. The school opened in January 2007. Nelson Mandela praised Winfrey for overcoming her own disadvantaged youth to become a benefactor for others and for investing in the future of South Africa.
A Guardian article entitled The Wisdom of Oprah says: The beauty of Oprah’s story is that it is simple, inexpensive things – being taught to read by her grandmother and, later, her father’s discipline and his emphasis on her education – which gave her the tools she needed to become much more than just another statistic. That in itself is inspiring.
One of the well-known paradoxes of wisdom is expressed by Mark Twain’s admission: “When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years”.
Even though we may not be able to teach children to do Grey Hat Thinking we can still raise their consciousness and teach them to understand what it is–to recognise it–to appreciate it, to consult it, and to seek it our wherever it can be found.
“Wisdom, wrote Albert Einstein, “is not a product of schooling but of the lifelong attempt to acquire it … The attempt to combine wisdom and power has only rarely been successful and then only for a short while … How I wish that somewhere there existed an island for those who are wise and of goodwill! In such a place even I would be an ardent patriot.
NOTE: If you have any suggestions or comments on this topic, please post your ideas below.
Last night I was invited to a Public Lecture at Melbourne Uni. Since I’ve recently moved into downtown Melbourne’s CBD I went along.
It was in a stylish and modern lecture theatre in The Spot in the School of Economics and it was just a pleasant 5-minute stroll from my new apartment.
This Dean’s Lecture was by visiting Nobel Judge, Professor Erling Norrby MD PhD, who was Professor of Virology and Chairman at the Royal Karolinska Institute for 25 years.
Professor Norrby was deeply involved in judging Nobel prizes in Physiology and Medicine for 20 years. He’s currently Vice-Chairman of the Board of the J Craig Venter Institute and Lord Chamberlain-in-Waiting at the Royal Swedish Court.
He showed us how they decided who was ‘prize-worthy’ and it was a real eye-opener. They are not only rigorous in Sweden but also very clever. I got some useful tips for the future development of our own award for the Australian Thinker of the Year.
In particular he explained the spectacular advances in immunology following the 1960 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine to Sir Macfarlane Burnet and Peter Medawar and the achievements in the global control of infectious diseases was also discussed. He described Burnet as one of the great ‘scientific giants’ since the prize began in 1901.
The evening also honoured Australian “Mr Measles”, Emeritus Professor Derek Denton, who was there with his wife Dame Margaret Scott. His work is ridding the world of measles and so he’s saving a million babies a year. (How come we all know about Paris Hilton but we don’t know about this guy? I think the media needs to lift its game and get some perspective).
The evening was a science name-dropper’s paradise. All the biggies were there. I was able to present my guest to Professor Roger Short FRS, one of my science heroes and Nobel Laureate Peter Doherty; Prof Suzanne Cory, Pres of the Australian Academy of Science; and many of the big names in Australian Science. Then we all stood for the entrance of the Victorian viceroy.
Sundry luminaries like former Prime Minister, The Hon Malcolm Fraser and Science Minister The Hon Barry Jones were there, too, with a tribe of faculty and students from across the campus. Have I left anyone out?
After the mandatory post-lecture sherry and cheese we hopped on the tram for a couple of stops to our favourite little home-cooking cucina in Carlton for some pasta, cotolletta, panna cotta and grappa. I was home and watching telly in bed by 9. What’s not to love about life in Melbourne’s CBD!
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