The Wisdom Page

The Wisdom Page is a compilation of wisdom-related resources — various on-line texts concerning wisdom, references to books about wisdom, information about organizations that promote wisdom, wise activities, and listserv groups concerned with aspects of wisdom. The most recently added materials are preceded by <b>NEW!</b>.


Whatever happened to wisdom?
What is wisdom?
The traditional Wisdom Literature
Contemporary books about wisdom and wise living
The System Perspective
The Integration of Truth, and the Integral Vision
Wisdom-Related Audio Tapes
Spirituality and Wisdom in Business

Other wisdom-related resources
Wisdom in action

Whatever happened to wisdom?

Jerry Ortiz y Pino addressed this question in his column in the Santa Fe Reporter:

[Wisdom is] one of those slightly old-fashioned words, the type that slip out of style because they sound less punchy than the jargon we start using in their place. In time we forget about using it at all. And because the words we substitute aren't quite the same, we're made poorer by the substitutions, losing slices of the original meaning with each change.

So wisdom, good ol' sapientiae in Latin, hardly ever gets airtime these days. Instead, we talk about "cleverness," "I.Q.," "managerial know-how," or any of 50 not-quite synonyms. None of those really are interchangeable with wisdom, but they get used in its place. Meanwhile, wisdom, the original concept, is forgotten.

[Wisdom is] the ability to make sound choices, good decisions. The best decision. Wisdom is intelligence shaped by experience. Information softened by understanding. And it is in very short supply these days.

Wisdom is not something a person is born with. Intelligence is. Cleverness is. The ability to appear dynamic is. But Wisdom isn't. It only comes from living, from making mistakes — or from listening to others who have made mistakes and learned from them.

If wisdom is in short supply among our leaders, we don't have far to look for the culprits. It started disappearing along about the time we stopped expecting it.

If you, too, share Jerry's concerns, browse The Wisdom Page.

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What is wisdom?

To Jerry Ortiz y Pino, wisdom is "the ability to make sound choices, good decisions. The best decision. Wisdom is intelligence shaped by experience. Information softened by understanding."

Others might use different words and stress different aspects of wisdom. Whatever wisdom is, it is complex, and not easy to describe. Yet isn't it important that we attempt to do just that? How can we hope to integrate wisdom into our lives if the concept isn't clear and we don't have the words to talk about it?

It can be helpful to see how others wrestle with the issue:

Joseph W. Meeker sums it up in a profound paragraph from his article "Wisdom and Wilderness":

Wisdom is a state of the human mind characterized by profound understanding and deep insight. It is often, but not necessarily, accompanied by extensive formal knowledge. Unschooled people can acquire wisdom, and wise people can be found among carpenters, fishermen, or housewives. Wherever it exists, wisdom shows itself as a perception of the relativity and relationships among things. It is an awareness of wholeness that does not lose sight of particularity or concreteness, or of the intricacies of interrelationships. It is where left and right brain come together in a union of logic and poetry and sensation, and where self-awareness is no longer at odds with awareness of the otherness of the world. Wisdom cannot be confined to a specialized field, nor is it an academic discipline; it is the consciousness of wholeness and integrity that transcends both. Wisdom is complexity understood and relationships accepted.

Twenty scholars share their views in WISDOM: Its Nature, Origins and Development, a book edited by Robert Sternberg.

Don Cochrane expresses his views in the essay Wisdom: A First Approximation.

Stephen Palmquist deals with the issue in part three of his book The Tree of Philosophy.

Copthorne Macdonald's view of the nature of wisdom appears in Chapter 1 of TOWARD WISDOM and the Introduction to GETTING A LIFE.

Andrew Bard Schmookler deals with the polarization-integrating aspect of wisdom in his essay THE DANCE OF POLARIZATION: And The Next Step Beyond

Stephen Covey, Roger Merrill, and Rebecca Merrill have studied the wisdom literature, and in Appendix C of their 1995 book First Things First identify nine "major recurring themes" in that literature.

Gene Oliver has put together a list of links to wisdom-related Internet sites and from his Many Paths Web site you can access many additional Internet links, book lists, and resources concerned with wisdom and personal growth.

<b>NEW!</b> Scholar Bruce Lloyd has compiled a database of 1000+ old and new quotations on the subject of wisdom, and has made it available on the Wisdom of the World Forum — a component of the Web site of the World Future Society. His related article from the May-June 2000 issue of The Futurist entitled "The Wisdom of the World: Messages for the New Millennium" can be purchased online from Northern Light.

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The traditional Wisdom Literature

The scientific literature was written to help us understand the laws of nature. The traditional Wisdom Literature was written to help us understand the laws of life and our place in the universe. Some of this literature dates from 3000 years ago, or before, and includes works from India, China, Greece, the Middle East — and later from Europe. In the Judeo-Christian tradition we have the teachings of Moses, The Book of Job, The Proverbs of Solomon, Ecclesiastes, the teachings of Jesus, and later, those of Meister Eckhart, St. John of the Cross, and other Christian Mystics. In the Hindu tradition we find The Upanishads, and The Bhagavad Gita. In Taoism the Tao Teh Ching and the I Ching. In Buddhism we have teachings of the Gautama Buddha embodied in the Sutras, and elaborated upon in a myriad of later works. From the Greeks we have the works of Aristotle, Plato, and Plotinus. To get a taste of this literature, compilations can be helpful. Among my (Cop Macdonald's) favorites are:

A more detailed bibliography appears in the Covey/Merrill/Merrill book mentioned above: First Things First (New York: Simon & Schuster Fireside, 1995, ISBN 0-684-80203-1)

Larry Kahaner noticed that I hadn't mentioned the TALMUD. I should have. The Talmud is a major work in the wisdom literature, and has a central place in Jewish culture. He notes that "the Talmud is not a sacred work, a mystical work or a religious document. The Talmud is a guidebook for life that contains everything from how to raise children, grow crops, and heal the sick, to how to run your business. Most important, the Talmud teaches ethics. It offers precise instruction on how to handle everyday matters in a fair and just manner."

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Contemporary books about wisdom and wise living

There are also many contemporary books that deal with wisdom. Some of these books never mention the word wisdom, but deal with important aspects of it nevertheless. In TOWARD WISDOM I include an annotated bibliography of books of this kind — books that address aspects and elements of wisdom without necessarily using the term. Other contemporary books address the nature and development wisdom more directly. Below, I call your attention to a few of these.

By Trevor Curnow

This amazingly comprehensive new book (1999) will prove a valuable resource for anyone wanting to explore the history of wisdom in the West and the East, the nature of wisdom, and/or wisdom’s relationship to ethics. In the first of the book’s three sections, British scholar Trevor Curnow traces the history of wisdom in the West from its earliest roots in Egypt and Israel, to the many schools of Greek thought on the subject, to early and later Christian understandings of it, and finally to various Renaissance and Modern views. We learn, for example, that the sage figured prominently in the literature of Stoicism, and "could be seen as an individual with a highly developed sense of ethical intuition. …the sage can be relied upon to act appropriately in any situation." Curnow tells us about Heraclitus and the theory of the Logos, "the universal principle, underlying and moving through everything which is the basis of the cosmic order. …the regulator of the universe," and how in this view wisdom is "a matter of seeing how everything relates to everything else, of perceiving the order of things, of understanding the integrated nature of reality." Regarding the modern-era Russian philosopher Valdimir Solovyov, Curnow says: "Solovyov set up the ‘integral life’ as the human ideal, and this was understood both in terms of inner unity, and communion with the Absolute. Part of this integral life was the development of ‘integral knowledge’ which reconciled and harmonised science, philosophy and religion."

In the book’s second section — The Nature of Wisdom — Curnow explores four themes intimately connected with wisdom: self-knowledge, detachment, integration, and transcendence. He does so by referring to Western perspectives already introduced and by introducing additional perspectives from the East (Advaita Vedanta, Buddhism, and Confucianism) and from Western psychology (including Freud, Jung, and Maslow.) His many observations include the following: "For Maslow…self-knowledge offers contact with the highest values that lie within us. The process of self-actualisation is also the process of the actualisation of these values." Regarding detachment: "What is sought [according to a number of writers] is detachment from the level of consciousness which is rooted in the sense of a separate self, in order to reach up to a higher level characterised as union." Curnow refers to integration as "the other side of detachment," and for Maslow integration is psychological integration: "The healthy person is all of a piece, integrated we might say. It is the neurotic person who is at odds with himself, whose reason struggles with his emotions." From the nondual perspective of Advaita Vedanta, Buddhism, and Ken Wilber, reality is already integrated, and "it is dualism itself, in all its manifestations, which constitutes the target against which detachment is directed." Curnow notes that from the nondual perspective the four themes "seek to give expression, in different ways, to a process, the end point of which is held to be beyond expression altogether. It is the end of this process which is given the name of wisdom."

In the book’s third section — The New Intuitionism — the focus is ethics and its relationship to wisdom. Intuitionism is one of Western philosophy’s technical terms, and I agree with Curnow that "an alternative and perhaps better name for ‘the new intuitionism’ might be ‘sapiential ethics’." Curnow’s view, which reflects a repetitive theme in the wisdom literature, is that an aspect of the development of wisdom is the development of an intuition-based ethical sensibility. "To put the matter in terms of Maslow, there are healthy choosers, and they are integrated people who perceive and integrated world. It is not difficult to see resemblances between Maslow’s healthy choosers and the traditional figure of the sage, nor between healthy choosing and wisdom."

Wisdom, Intuition and Ethics covers much historical and conceptual territory, and in its 346 pages usually does so in satisfying if moderate detail. The book includes a 25-page bibliography, and for those who want to dig deeper, Curnow invariably provides references to relevant works.

Wisdom, Intuition and Ethics is part of the Avebury Series in Philosophy, published by Ashgate in Aldershot, England and Brookfield, VT USA. Its ISBN is 1-84014-840-3, and the book is available from the publisher,, and other book retailers.

Two books by Copthorne Macdonald:

Aristotle identified two general types or aspects of wisdom. One deals with existential and metaphysical issues, with the big picture and the meaning of life. The other he called practical wisdom — what Coleridge referred to as "Common sense in an uncommon degree."

TOWARD WISDOM takes the position that the only way to make the world a better place is to make it a wiser place. We, and the world, need wisdom-based analyses of our problems followed by wisdom-based action. This book focuses on the existential, metaphysical kind of wisdom, the kind that meditation and other spiritual practices help us develop. It explores this "Perennial Philosophy" variety of wisdom, including the impediments we face in our quest to become wise, and various ways and means of getting past those impediments.


Primal reality and the Perennial Philosophy are also the subject of an article that appeared in ZYGON: Journal of Religion and Science. It makes the case that Perennial Philosophy spiritual teachings are not only compatible with post-modern science, but are made more understandable when we view reality from the perspective of information and carriers of information, of messages and media. A paper presented at the Tucson III Toward a Science of Consciousness 1998 conference, "Implications of a Fundamental Consciousness", is an amplification of the ZYGON paper's view of mental reality.

GETTING A LIFE, on the other hand, deals with the practical variety of wisdom. Its 21 chapters each deal with a different facet of everyday life — and with skillful and not-so-skillful ways of handling each. It is based on the premise that sometimes just by having something pointed out to us or discussed in a new way or from a new perspective, we are able to relate it to the wealth of life experience that each of us already has — and click into that uncommon level of common sense that is practical wisdom.

THE TREE OF PHILOSOPHY      by Stephen Palmquist

The original meaning of the word philosophy is "love of wisdom," and university professor Stephen Palmquist brings a wisdom focus to his book THE TREE OF PHILOSOPHY: A Course of Introductory Lectures for Beginning Students of Philosophy. The book's 28 chapters are arranged in four parts:

The book is available in electronic form, (free, on-line), or in print format.

WISDOM: Its Nature, Origins and Development     
Robert J. Sternberg, Editor

Published in 1990 by Cambridge University Press, this scholarly book looks at wisdom from philosophical, psychological, and folk perspectives. The book's fourteen chapters by twenty authors are arrange in five groups:

The paperback edition is ISBN 0-521-36718-2

Five books by Ken Wilber:


One characteristic of wisdom is the ability to see the big picture and make sense of it — the ability to see the collective patterns within the myriad specific details of existence, the ability to see the forest as well as the trees. And when it comes to putting the big picture into words, no one has done a more comprehensive job of it than Ken Wilber in his four recent and interrelated books: SEX, ECOLOGY, SPIRITUALITY (1995), A BRIEF HISTORY OF EVERYTHING (1996), THE EYE OF SPIRIT(1997), and THE MARRIAGE OF SENSE AND SOUL (1998).

SEX, ECOLOGY, SPIRITUALITY, subtitled The Spirit of Evolution is the primary text — 831 pages, with loads of notes and references. Larry Dossey calls this book "One of the most significant books ever published," and I agree. Wilber's deep personal grounding in non-dual spirituality combines with his wide-ranging scholarship that includes not only Eastern and Western "spiritual" philosophy, but also modernism, postmodernism, and scientific perspectives on evolution. All this, coming together in Wilber's head, has resulted in a massive and brilliant synthesis that lays new groundwork for ongoing work in many fields. A BRIEF HISTORY OF EVERYTHING is a 342 page commentary on the first book in Q&A format — a popularization of the first, and a good place to start even if you end up getting and reading the larger, more scholarly book.

THE EYE OF SPIRIT is Ken Wilber's prescription for what he calls an "integral culture" — a culture which integrates the WE, the IT and the I; which integrates the Good, the True, and the Beautiful; and which honors and facilitates personal growth, from basic psychological development through realization of the non-dual nature of reality and identification with Spirit. The book's last chapter (12) deals with this final stage of growth, and is, itself, a magnificent addition to the world's spiritual literature.

THE MARRIAGE OF SENSE AND SOUL focuses on one additional much-needed integration: the integration of science and religion. Wilber's recipe for integration requires changes within both science and religion, but he feels that they are reasonable changes, and not too much to ask. Wilber asks science to open to a "broad empiricism" which includes the inner as well as the outer, and to abandon its reductionist agenda. He asks religion to embrace "falsifiability," and thus to "jettison its bogus claims," those rooted in a pre-scientific mythology. Wilber asks religion to focus instead on its great strength and benefit to humanity: contemplation which Wilber calls "a science of spiritual experience."

A THEORY OF EVERYTHING is Ken Wilber's latest work.  Published in mid-2000, it links Wilber's explanatory schemata to real-world problems and situations, and presents a convincing case that only an integral approach to personal and societal development will get humanity through the difficult times ahead.  Click to see a detailed review of this book. 

<b>NEW!</b>  Wilber's publisher, Shambhala, maintains a Ken Wilber web site with excerpts from Wilber's books, reviews of them, interviews with him, and related materials.

Ken Wilber, SEX, ECOLOGY, SPIRITUALITY: The Spirit of Evolution, Boston: Shambhala, 1995, 831 pp., ISBN 1-57062-072-5.

Ken Wilber, A BRIEF HISTORY OF EVERYTHING, Boston: Shambhala, 1996, 342 pp., ISBN 1-57062-187-X.

Ken Wilber, EYE OF SPIRIT: An Integral Vision for a World Gone Slightly Mad, Boston: Shambhala, 1997, 414 pp., ISBN 1-57062-276-0.

Ken Wilber, THE MARRIAGE OF SENSE AND SOUL: Integrating Science and Religion, New York: Random House, 1998, ISBN 0-375-50054-5

Ken Wilber, A THEORY OF EVERYTHING: An Integral Vision for Business, Politics, Science, and Spirituality, Boston: Shambhala, 2000, 189 pp., ISBN 1-57062-724-X.

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The System Perspective

A powerful tool for understanding the world around us is the system perspective on reality. Complexity in the natural world emerges as a hierarchy of natural systems or holons which have the property of being a whole at their own systemic level and a part or component in a system at the next level up the hierarchy. Subatomic particles get together to form atoms. Atoms interrelate to form molecules. Molecules of a single type sometimes join each other to form crystals. And molecules of many different types sometimes join to form the living systems we call cells. Cells interconnect to create those complex systems called plants, fish, birds, and human beings. Living things of many types interact with each other to form ecosystems. Ecosystems communicate with each other and together form the biosphere. Human beings start communicating with each other and give birth to those systems we call societies, economies, and nations.

Ervin Laszlo’s book The Systems View of the World is an especially accessible work on natural systems and the system hierarchy that is found in nature (Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press, 1996). Ken Wilber’s books A Brief History of Everything, and Sex, Ecology, Spirituality expand on Laszlo’s basic schema. Wilber prefers the term holon rather than system, and Wilber goes more deeply into the interior, subjective aspect of systems than does Laszlo.

MEANING, Cliff Havener’s book on social systems

Especially interesting to us human beings are those systems of which we ourselves are components. I refer to social systems — societies, organizations, corporations, etc. A fascinating book that focuses on the relationship between people and this type of system is MEANING: The Secret of Being Alive (Edina, MN: Beaver’s Pond Press, 1999).

Havener writes about the life-cycle of social systems. He notes that there is always a purpose behind the creation of a social system, and that during the system’s formative phase, a materially-grounded system is configured to satisfy the original "spiritual" purpose. Once the system is up and running, it moves into the normative phase, and most established corporations, organizations, and political institutions are currently in this phase of their life cycle. Havener notes that when this shift occurs, there is also a shift in goals: "The goal of the formative phase was to figure out how to materialize the system’s intent. The goal of the normative phase is to maximize the efficiency of the forms and processes it created to do that, whatever they were." In the normative phase, the system no longer welcomes change — even change that would better fulfill the original purpose. In this phase the system becomes both resistant to change and increasingly distant from the original purpose that brought it into existence. Havener gives many examples (most from business) of how this plays out in the lives of organizations and their human components. It is not a pretty picture.

If the normative phase continues to its usual conclusion, the system eventually declines and dies. But Havener talks about another possibility, the possibility of moving a system out of its normative phase and into a phase of renewal that he calls the integrative phase. In his words: "The integrative phase means unifying the fragments of the normative phase by recognizing both the spiritual and material states of the system, both its principle complements and its original purpose. It doesn’t mean throwing away what exists. It means discovering the meaning behind it. It often means redesigning the system, based on its original intent, to fit current conditions."

MEANING: The Secret of Being Alive is an insightful, thought-provoking book — must reading for anyone interested in bring wisdom and renewal to societal institutions. It can be ordered through the author's web site,

Since the book's publication, Havener and Margaret Thorpe, the book's editor, have written several online articles that apply to the principles outlined in the book to other-than-business situations, including education, psychology, conflict, and communication. “is a non-profit organisation dedicated to promoting the wider aspects of the Complex System sciences by education, synthesis and by the integration of the theories into the mainstream viewpoints of arts, philosophy and science.”  Of particular interest is their Action page, “an attempt make explicit the contributions systems theory can make to creating wisdom in our behaviours.”
Home page:
Action page:

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The Integration of Truth, and the Integral Vision

In several of his books, Ken Wilber discusses the positive and negative effects of modernity. He identifies one of the negative effects as the disassociation of the three great value spheres, variously called:

Modernism led to cultural dominance by science and its exclusive focus on the IT realm, with truths from the subjective (I) and intersubjective (WE) realms being ignored and devalued. Postmodernism has had its own agenda, one that in many respects has not brought about correction and healing. Sadly, in their present forms, neither modernism nor postmodernism represent the cultural foundation which the world desparately needs if humanity is going to thrive in a long-term sustainable way. Wilber and others are calling for corrective measures that will set right some of the imbalances caused by science's domination of our culture. He has used the term "integral vision," and one of his key meanings of integration is the integration of truths from whatever sphere of human knowledge they come — from science of course, but also central truths from anthropology, art and literary theory, feminism, philosophy, psychology, psychotherapy, theories of consciousness, and spiritual practice.

There are, of course, various interpretations and spins on the terms integration, integral culture, and integral vision. Paul Ray, sociologist and researcher, has referred to the integral culture as the "spiritualization of modernism," and his studies indicate that one fourth of the U.S. adult population would identify with at least his definition of it. (Paul Ray, "The Rise of Integral Culture," Noetic Sciences Review, Spring 1996.)

Integral Age

Integral Age, a new web site "dedicated to the notion that human consciousness evolves through specific stages, individually and culturally, and that we are collectively in the throes of an emerging integral consciousness." The site is described as "an aperspectival space, beyond the fixed focus of any one worldview, where leading thinkers on an emerging modality of consciousness — Jean Gebser, Georg Feurstein, Allan Combs, Ken Wilber, Sally Goerner, Ervin Laszlo, Edgar Morin, and many others — can share their visions and projects for an unfolding integral culture..." Facilitating this sharing will be the Integral Age e-journal Integralis: Journal of Integral Consciousness, Culture, and Science. This site promises to become a central forum and resource in the integral culture movement.

The is another site well worth visiting. It is “dedicated to honoring the integral worldview, and our mission is to help you define it and share it in a highly interactive community, through an online union of souls.” The site features the online publication integral edge journal.

This site has information about, and links to, a variety of resources related to The Emerging Integral Culture.

Integral Institute

Ken Wilber and a group of other Integral theorists recently founded Integral Institute, "a non-profit organization dedicated to the integration of body, mind, soul, and spirit in self, culture, and nature" — an organization "dedicated to the proposition that piecemeal approaches to the world's problems...not only no longer help but often compound the problem, and they need to be replaced by approaches that are more comprehensive, systematic, encompassing--and integral."  Click the above link for more details.

Creating an Integral Culture

Observers have noted that contemporary society is characterized by three sets of opposing forces:

Business-as-usual forces that want to maintain the existing institutions and ways of doing things. They want to keep the mechanisms of institutional and governmental control pretty much as they are, keep the economy global and growing, and keep the world’s economic wealth in the hands of those who currently possess it.

Nostalgic forces that want to go back to an earlier time and way of doing things — to a simpler, less anarchic period characterized by traditional values and a slower pace of change.

Insightful forces which recognize that neither of the above approaches are viable. This group’s vision is rooted in a deeper-than-ordinary understanding of our existential situation, and incorporates a new ethics which values both the-good-of-the-whole and the wellbeing of individuals. These forces advocate

  1. the long term sustainability of human society,
  2. economic justice (e.g., an adequate material standard of living for all, and an equitable sharing of resources and the fruits of technological innovation), and
  3. the establishment of cultures and institutions which
  • allow people to develop their innate physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual potentials,
  • facilitate a deep understanding of our existential situation, and
  • lead people to voluntarily choose an empathetic, caring-based personal morality — a morality that is compatible with our existential situation, and which must become widespread if this vision of the future is to become an actuality.

This third group is surprisingly large. For more than a decade, pollster and values researcher Paul H. Ray studied the lifestyles, interests, values, expectations, preferences, and choices of Americans. Based on his work with hundreds of focus groups, dozens of surveys, and especially a highly-focused values survey at the end of 1994 [1], Ray reports that the insightful group, who he calls cultural creatives, total 44 million people. He says:

American culture is changing rapidly. . . . Three different streams of cultural meanings and worldviews are evident at this moment in history: Traditional, Modern and Trans-Modern (i.e. becoming Integral), each comprising distinct subcultures of values. I use the terms Heartlanders, Modernists, and Cultural Creatives to denote, respectively, the bearers of these three subcultures.

Today’s Heartlanders believe in a nostalgic image of return to small town, religious America, corresponding to the period 1890 to 1930. It is a mythical image that defines for its adherents the Good Old American Ways. The Heartlanders, America’s cultural conservatives, are 29% of the population, or 56 million adults.

Modernism emerged 500 years ago in Europe at the end of the Renaissance. . . The dominant values are personal success, consumerism, materialism, and technological rationality. Bearers of Modernism represent about 47% of the population, or 88 million adults.

Cultural Creatives (CCs) are so called because they are coming up with most new ideas in American culture, operating on the leading edge of cultural change. CCs have two wings: Core Cultural Creatives and Green Cultural Creatives.

Core CCs (10.6%, or 20 million) have both person-centered and green values: seriously concerned with psychology, spiritual life, self-actualization, self-expression, like the foreign and exotic (are xenophiles), enjoy mastering new ideas, are socially concerned, advocate "women’s issues" and are strong advocates of ecological sustainability. They tend to be "leading edge" thinkers and creators. They tend to be upper middle class, and their male:female ratio is 33:67, twice as many women as men.

Green CCs (13%, or 24 million) have values centered on the environment and social concerns from a secular view, with average interest in spirituality, psychology, or person-centered values. They appear to be followers of the Core CCs and tend to be middle class.

This new subculture is busily constructing a new approach to the world: a new set of concepts for viewing the world, an ecological and spiritual worldview, a whole new literature of social concerns, a new problematique for the planet in place of the old set of problems that Modernism set out to solve, a new set of psychological development techniques, a return in spiritual practices and understandings to the perennial psychology and philosophy, an elevation of the feminine to a new place in human history.[2]

Ray explains his use of the word Integral:

The appearance of the Cultural Creatives is about healing the old splits: between inner and outer, spiritual and material, individual and society. The possibility of a new culture centers on the reintegration of what has been fragmented by Modernism: self-integration and authenticity; integration with community and connection with others around the globe, not just at home; connection with nature and learning to integrate ecology and economy; and a synthesis of diverse views and traditions, including philosophies of East and West. Thus Integral Culture.

Other studies support Ray's analysis. Duane Elgin has reported on a massive 43-nation World Values Survey[3] which revealed a major values shift in Scandinavia, Switzerland, Britain, Canada and the United States. Ronald Inglehart, the study’s coordinator, calls it the "postmodern shift." The study revealed:

  • A loss of confidence in all kinds of hierarchical institutions including government, business, and religion.
  • A shift in emphasis from external authority to the authority that comes from an inner sense of what is appropriate.
  • A shift from concern about material well-being to subjective well-being.
  • A tendency to subordinate economic growth to environmental sustainability.
  • A growing interest in discovering personal meaning and interest in life.
  • An interest in roles for women that allow for greater self-realization.

In the "Wisdom in Action" section of this site there is a list of 70+ links to organizations working toward a sustainable and more equitable world.  You might also want to read reviews of two integrative books — books that link the inner and outer, the personal and the societal, to give us a clearer sense of how we can heal and transform ourselves, our institutions, and the global society:

  Review of Ken Wilber's book  A Theory of Everything
Integralis: Journal of Integral Consciousness, Culture, and Science
, Vol. 1, No. 0.

  Review of Michael Lerner's book Spirit Matters
Integralis: Journal of Integral Consciousness, Culture, and Science, Vol. 1, No. 0.


[1] Ray, Paul H. 1996 — The Integral Culture Survey: A Study of the Emergence of Transformational Values in America — a study sponsored by the Institute of Noetic Sciences and the Fetzer Institute, and available from the Institute of Noetic Sciences as Research Report 96-A, 415-331-5650.

[2] Ray, 1996, pp. ix, x, 72.

[3] Elgin, Duane, 1997. Global Consciousness Change: Indicators of an Emerging Paradigm. San Anselmo, CA: Millennium Project.

Deep Understanding

The task of radically transforming what exists today into the sustainable, equitable, and integral world of tomorrow is a daunting one, and is likely to be accomplished only through actions that arise from wisdom. What seems to be called for is deep understanding — a variety of wisdom in which broadly-based contextual knowledge (the humanities plus the sciences plus economics) is integrated with introspectively acquired self-knowledge. Its development would involve two activities:

  1. The acquisition of relevant intellectual knowledge.     Science and the humanities are the twin pillars of Western higher education, but many people stand on only one. Just as many scientists and engineers lack knowledge of the humanities, many "well-educated" people have a largely humanities-focused education, and lack scientific knowledge. Economics also stands alone: mainstream economists ignore many human and scientific realities, and most scientists and humanities-educated people lack clarity about economic realities. Unfortunately, none of these one-pillar stances will take us where we need to go. To come to grips with the major scientific, social, and economic issues which bear on the present world situation, we must all become more holistic knowers. Very simply, we can deal effectively with humanity’s problems only if we have a deep and comprehensive understanding of the context in which those problems are set. This includes knowledge of the systemic nature of the cosmos, the evolutionary process in its most general sense, consciousness, human cultures, economic systems, and some of the more important principles, laws, and regularities which underlie functioning in all these areas.
  2. The intentional pursuit of self-knowledge.     The exploration of one’s own psyche leads ultimately to an appreciation of the laws by which our inner, subjective lives operate. It also leads to ethical understanding, moral behavior, new levels of inner peace and freedom, and even insights into the nature of primal reality. Many people today are developing this largely-intuitive aspect of deep understanding through psychotherapies, intentional solitude, and direct-participation spiritual practices such as meditation.

To pursue this further, click on the links above to access lists of relevant resources.  Or click on "Deep Understanding: Wisdom for an Integral Age," to access an Integralis article on this subject.

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Wisdom-Related Audio Tapes

Some people prefer listening to reading. Others simply spend a lot of time in their cars, and listening to a tape while they drive makes better use of that time. Several sources are mentioned below.

New Dimensions Radio

New Dimensions has been making their interesting programming available for years on audio cassettes, and there is much gold in their archives. Of particular current interest is their Deep Ecology series.

CBC — Ideas

The Canadian Broadcasting Company has aired, for many years, a program called Ideas, and many of these programs are available on tape. Among the fascinating programs available on tape is a recent series concerning the human impact on the planet — From Naked Ape to Superspecies — written and narrated by David Suzuki.

Knowledge Products

Knowledge Products produces adult educational books-on-tape in a wide range of "serious" subject areas such as philosophy, economics, political thought, comparative religion, etc. As they describe their offerings, "Basically we attempt to cover the great ideas and events of history. Each title was written by a historical scholar or educator and then edited into an easy to understand format." Their Giants of Philosophy series (narrated by Charlton Heston), World of Philosophy series (narrated by Lynn Redgrave), and Religion, Scriptures, and Spirituality series (narrated by Ben Kingsley) are particularly relevant to the topic of wisdom. I tried the Baruch Spinoza 2-tape offering from the "Giants…" series and the Socrates tapes from the "World…" series and found them both highly informative and easy to listen to.

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Spirituality and Wisdom in Business

An area of current interest goes under several names: Spirituality in the Workplace, Spirituality in Business, and Wisdom at Work. An excellent article on the subject entitled Spirituality in the Workplace by Martin Rutte, President of Livelihood, Inc*, appears both here and in the book Heart at Work by Jack Canfield & Jacqueline Miller (McGraw-Hill, 1996). Another book, Chicken Soup for the Soul at Work, was co-authored by Martin Rutte, Maida Rogerson, Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, and Tim Clauss. While you're at it, check out Martin's Spirituality in the Workplace Web site.
[* Livelihood, Inc., 64 Camerada Loop, Santa Fe, NM 87505. E-mail: ]

One more book dealing with these issues is Wisdom in the Workplace: On the Job Training for the Soul, by Ellen Krupack Raineri [ Braino Inc., 227 Seminole Ave., Wilkes-Barre, PA 18702.       E-Mail:]

Conferences on Spirituality in Business were held in Mazatlan, Mexico in 1995, '96, and '97. A Conference brochure highlighted some of the issues:

"In the past, corporations have shied away from workshops with the word "spirituality" in the title because there was a preconception of what spirituality meant. It usually meant some particular cosmology or set of beliefs. But that's the past. Now corporations all over the world are recognizing the need for spirit in the workplace. The old agreements between corporations and employees no longer hold, e.g., "We'll give you security if you'll commit to work for us through retirement." The current-day corporation wants and needs people who are creative, independent, and self-motivated. And employees now realize that in order to give at the level of their highest productivity, they must be doing what they love. If not, they experience stress, anxiety, fatigue, and eventually burn-out. The real value of the word "spriritual" is in the ongoing questioning of how it manifests, rather than in a specific definition.

"We can point to some of the signs that indicate that spirit exists in the workplace: honesty, respect, openness, compassion, commitment to quality, commitment to the environment, and connectedness among the employee group. And we can all recognize when spirit is blocked in our everyday work environment: low morale, low productivity, gossip, backbiting, and high employee absenteeism."

The WISDOM_AT_WORK Internet E-mail List

Those who would like to participate in a dialogue on this subject are invited to join the WISDOM_AT_WORK e-mail discussion list. The list is an activity of Renaissance Business Associates, who Let Davidson, the list's moderator, describes as "people committed to demonstrating the power and effectiveness of integrity in the business environment." He says that the list is intended to facilitate dialogue among "people who are interested in the current transformation of consciousness and the movement to integrate spirituality into our work and organizations."

The list will post Let Davidson's regular column, entitled "Wisdom at Work," which will be appearing regularly in The Connection, the quarterly newsletter of Renaissance Business Associates. The column will appear there along with other of Let's writings on the "Perennial Philosophy" — the core unitive wisdom of the world's great spiritual traditions — and its practical applications to work and our organizations. The list is dedicated to an open dialogue on the personal and organizational issues of integrating spirituality at work. Participants are invited to share their views on a wide range of topics that will include:

To subscribe to the WISDOM_AT_WORK list:

  1. Address an e-mail message to:
  2. Make the message body text:       subscribe wisdom_at_work

Some of Let Davidson's personal views on the subject can be found in his essay Wisdom at Work.

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<b>NEW!</b> Artist William Shirley and writer Melanie Pahlmann have created a virtue-oriented web site,, that features paintings and text which focus on the virtues of Faith, Courage, Discipline, Respect, Truthfulness, Compassion, Generosity, Gratitude, Humility, Patience, and Purity.  The site also features an extensive list of quotations concerning these virtues, a reading list, and links to a variety of sites concerned with wiser ways of being in the world.

The Virtues Project

We tend to associate wisdom with age and considerable life experience, but is there any way of helping children move in this direction — any way of giving them a head start toward wisdom? The YES answer from The Virtues Project is to teach children about the virtues.

From an International Year of the Family publication Caring for Families, quoted in the June 1995 VIRTUES PROJECT NEWS:

The Virtues Project is an initiative which began in 1991 to empower individuals and families to live by their deepest values. The Virtues Guide, by Linda Kavelin Popov, Dr. Dan Popov and John Kavelin . . . is the seminal book of The Virtues Project and . . . is sourced in the simple wisdom of many world religions, all of which describe the human virtues as the highest aspiration for humanity. Virtues are more basic than values. All cultures honor virtues such as courage, love, honesty, loyalty, excellence, and service, yet they apply them differently according to their diverse value systems.

In addition to The Virtues Guide, there are a variety of other Project materials. These include Virtues Reminders, a set of 52 multicolored leaflets, each having an inspirational quote and a brief description of the Virtue on one side, and "signs of success" and an "affirmation" on the other.

The 52 virtues dealt with are:

Assertiveness   Faithfulness    Kindness        Respect
Caring          Flexibility     Love            Responsibility
Cleanliness     Forgiveness     Loyalty         Reverence
Compassion      Friendliness    Mercy           Self-Discipline
Confidence      Generosity      Moderation      Service
Consideration   Gentleness      Modesty         Steadfastness
Courage         Helpfulness     Obedience       Tact
Courtesy        Honesty         Orderliness     Thankfulness
Creativity      Honor           Patience        Tolerance
Detachment      Humility        Peacefulness    Trust
Determination   Idealism        Prayerfulness   Trustworthiness
Enthusiasm      Joyfulness      Purposefulness  Truthfulness
Excellence      Justice         Reliability     Unity

The Virtues Guide is priced at $24.95, and a set of Virtues Reminders is $7.95. Acceptable methods of payment are a check or money order in U.S. funds, Visa, or MasterCard.

Virtues Project materials can be ordered from Virtues Communications, P.O. Box 18078, Fountain Hills, AZ 85269 USA. Phone Orders: 800-850-0714. Fax Orders: 602-816-0716. Email:    And there is now a Virtues Project Web Site.

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Other wisdom-related resources

The Foundation for Global Community

The Foundation for Global Community describes itself as "a nonprofit, educational movement whose mission is to discover, live, and communicate what is needed to build a world that functions for the benefit of all life." It publishes an exciting, thought stirring magazine called Timeline at the amazingly low subscription price of only US$10.00 for six issues. "A major focus of the Foundation is its Center for the Evolution of Culture in Palo Alto whose purpose is to encourage a change in the prevailing culture of materialism, growth, and 'more,' to a culture that recognizes when 'enough is enough' — a culture of spirit, quality, and excellence." The foundation also presents courses in conflict resolution and, at its retreat center in Ben Lomond, California, seminars by leading thinkers.

The address of the Foundation for Global Community is 222 High Street, Palo Alto, CA 94301. Their phone number is 415-328-7756.


Listed here are organizations concerned with wisdom and wisdom development. Each has its own distinctive slant on wisdom, and its own distinctive programs.

The Wisdom Society

The Wisdom Society focuses on practical wisdom, as it differentiates that kind of wisdom from the metaphysical / meaning-of-life variety. The organization establishes chapters and discussion groups "To debate, in print, all controversial ideas with the objective of finding where reasoned opinion lies."

Contact:  The Wisdom Society, P.O. Box 4126, San Marcos, CA 92069 USA. Phone: 619-737-WISE (619-737-9473)

The Wisdom Conservancy

The Wisdom Conservancy describes itself as "a private nonprofit organization established for the study of wisdom and community." The organization is involved in a variety of activities aimed at preserving the ideas and utterances of "learned and compassionate people." Their mission statement says, "The Wisdom Conservancy (TWC) conserves, communicates, and encourages wisdom. Via modern means we conserve the life wisdom of learned and compassionate people from around the world. TWC uses this resource to develop educational programs, books, videos and other media. We support and encourage the public in cultivating and applying wisdom to help establish a more just and enduring civilization."

Contact:  The Wisdom Conservancy at Merriam Hill Education Center, 148 Merriam Hill, Greenville, NH 03048 USA. Phone: 603-878-1818. E-mail:

The Philopsychy Society

This group, of primary interest to writers and those interested in writing, is just in the process of forming. Its founder, Stephen Palmquist says, "The term 'Philopsychy' comes from the Greek words phileo and psyche meaning 'love' and 'soul,' respectively. The main purpose of The Philopsychy Society, therefore, is to encourage and promote soul-loving in a variety of forms, both in theory and in practice, through the agency of the written word." The group supports self-publishing in both electronic and print formats, and the idea that "an author may publish and/or market his or her own writings without thereby sacrificing any academic integrity or artistic value."

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Wisdom in action

Wisdom can make our personal lives run more smoothly, but many would say that its real importance is the effect that it has on the world. Fortunately, deep understanding of the kind labeled wisdom often leads to behavior of a higher quality, to actions of a better kind, to lofty aims coupled with effective strategies. One place that wisdom is being manifested today is in the many non-governmental organizations that are working to transform our troubled modern society into one that reflects the integral vision. This  list of 70+ links to organizations working toward a sustainable and more equitable world does not come close to being complete, but because many of the listed sites maintain links to kindred organizations, you might find it a good place to start.

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Last revised 23 February 2002