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The Ongoing Race between Intelligence and Wisdom

Intelligence mindlessly chases things that may not matter in the final tally.
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    The world is becoming a much better place. The death rate has decreased and the life expectancy has increased. Today, we lead a much better life than our ancestors. Take the pre-historic man for instance, who had to spend his time hunting, gathering and worrying about mere survival. Sure, in the process he discovered fire and the wheel – but, they are what they are, discoveries. We, on the other hand have invented the automobile, electricity, the computer and the i-Phone, amongst other things. They may not seem to be absolute necessities for survival (except, the iPhone) – however, they are things that let us lead a more comfortable life. And that precisely is the point – today, we are thinking beyond survival and existential needs. That is progress. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs suggests that one first looks out for the basic needs, then progresses through the hierarchy till one cuts through to the spiritual plane and reaches the search for self actualization. Therein lies our destiny. And today, we are closer to that plane than ever. More and more people are questioning why are we here on this planet, fulfilling which cause? What is our raison d’etre? However, the biggest irony is that we could be the biggest enemies who prevent us, and our fellow homo sapiens, from reaching that point of nirvana.


    A compelling counter argument lies right in our lifestyles. We no longer have to behave like drones, waking up each morning to a fixed alarm, which starts off a cascading set of tasks. But, we do. A nine-to-five (or, more like nine-to-seven) job then takes over, and before we know, it’s dinner time; followed by time to watch that favorite show on TV. Do some homework for the next day, and sleep, because you have to wake up early the next day, only to go back to work. We live from one weekend to the other. Friday status updates have become the usual fare and so have Monday status updates. But these are small, tactical issues to tackle. I’m a firm believer that what the heart sets out to do, the mind finds a way to do it. It’s time to look above and beyond the weeds, and to see the bigger picture, the larger opportunity for the greater good.


    Lets look at our species, and we’ll find that we are constantly evolving. Yes, it’s true that we have reached an all time deceleration in genetic evolution; however that is also responsible for a relative genetic unity across races. Is it just me or have you experienced this as well – that kids these days seem to be much more smarter and aware of their surroundings than we were at that age? This could partly be explained by the ubiquitous nature of Internet permeating all facets of our lives, and thus better accessibility to quench one’s curiosity. But, that cannot be the whole truth. A couple of examples emerged while discussing this topic with friends. My niece, who is about four years old and has just joined school, asked her mom what does the word ‘absent’ mean. Her mother explained that when she does not attend school, she is considered absent. My niece says, ‘Incorrect. When one is not at a place where one is supposed to be, that person is deemed absent.’ At four years, it’s impossible for me to have said that to my mom. 


    Now, the question is — Will the future generations use this intelligence wisely? So, ‘intelligence’ and ‘wisdom’ are two closely related terms; however they are not the same because ‘education’ and wisdom can have corollary affects, but are different measures. Coming back to our ancestors, while they neither received the formal education that we did and nor did they have the same understanding of civic sense as defined by the modern society, they were far closer to nature and had a sense of wisdom that surpasses many from this current generation. I’m not arguing that we all need to turn off our electric connections and go back to live in the forests. But I’m afraid that the later our wisdom catches up with our intelligence, the more difficult it may be for our species and our planet to do a U-turn to Utopia.


    This brings about the point of other evolutionary benchmarks that need to be considered if we are to reach that point of self-actualization as a species. Technological and cultural evolutions today go hand in had with genetic evolutionary traits. On one hand, we are coming up with better guns and bombs that could swipe off countries in a matter of minutes, and on the other hand the world is much better connected and tales of human genocide and dictatorship are met with swift international action. On one hand, the media uncovers the smallest incident of human rights violation, and on the other hand it seems to be obsessed with bad news and feeds of the toxic waste its own society generates. Then, how do we judge and reward progress becomes paramount. As a society, innovation must keep the environmental context alive. Profits should be measured against the ultimate end game, rather than short-term quarter-on-quarter results.


    Intelligence versus wisdom — one mindlessly chases things that may not matter in the final tally and the other seeks to establish heaven on earth. We all know that our planet is at the mercy of the Sun and by most estimates we have about five billion years before all gets wiped off. Given that, will our intelligence be subservient to our wisdom and help us cross that mark, perhaps by helping us expand to other planets or by making space-time travel a realistic possibility? Or, would our intelligence race away from the mellow, guided grip of our older counterparts and finally crash?


    I am supremely optimistic. After all, gaining intelligence is akin to invention, whereas wisdom is closer to discovery. The tougher part of the puzzle has been solved. We’ve found the acceleration. It’s just a matter of steering the car in the right direction.


    And I’m sure someday, someone will come up with an app for that.

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