A Transformative Wisdom                                                                  

by Debashis Chowdhury                                                                                                                     7/26/07


Intelligent people are not necessarily wise, but wise people are usually uncommonly intelligent. There are many forms that intelligence takes, and some of them are more likely to give rise to wisdom than others. For instance, we have IQ (Intelligence Quotient) which typically peaks by the late teens, EQ (Emotional Quotient) that we develop well into our middle age, and SQ (Spiritual Quotient) which attempts to connect us with the spiritual essence of being. Each measure of intelligence pegs us into a domain where it is particularly useful, but does not by itself bring forth Wisdom. 

For Wisdom to arise, the intelligence needs to be applied in a certain pattern. The initial stages of developing wisdom is learning – about all the various aspects of human existence – the sciences, the arts, our social organization, our spiritual beliefs… The learning slowly develops into integrative understanding, not only of the subject matter itself, but as to how it relates to the other aspects of human existence. The more viewpoints we can pull into our integrative understanding, across cultures, across gender, across age groups and other demographics, the more representative and integral our understanding will be.

The next step is sometimes skipped, but for Wisdom to become pervasive, it is important that the integrative understanding now morph into the integrative mental model. The mental model adds the ability to model multi-faceted interactions, and check out how things might behave - well before they are tried out in actuality. The multiple facets are not only between various disciplines of knowledge, but also between multiple human players, who each bring their own individuality to play. Thus a wise person equipped with a mental model can not only figure the best holistic course of action, but also list the pitfalls and conflicts that would inevitably arise.

The game changes when the emerging reality is nothing like the reality we have known thus far - either from our personal experiences, from what we have learned from our family and friends, or even the collective civilizational lessons that were conveyed to us via history. For example, what if the changes we face within the next century could give rise to a trans-human civilization with the capability to scale up all the way to the visible Universe? Or conversely, what if mankind continued on its dissipative ways – and humans were forever marginalized as a progressive force in this region of the cosmos? Either way, we would face a transformative reality, and a special kind of wisdom, a Transformative Wisdom - would be needed for us to maximize our chances of long term survival and prosperity.

Monumental Changes

The forthcoming transformation facing human civilization has been referred to using many names. It has been called a ‘Singularity’ where the rate of change becomes so great that it takes on a life of its own, and all attempts to control its direction or progress are futile.  Ray Kurzweil and others have heralded the advent of super intelligent machines, which quickly surpasses us humans. Left to themselves, these creations of ours could leave us billowing in the dust (almost literally) as they head for inter-planetary domination. History is littered with the stories of great cultures that faded away quickly with the advent of a new reality. A relatively recent example is the demise of the Inca civilization, in the hand of the Spaniards. Often times, the causative agents for these dramatic changes look tiny in comparison. Who would have bet that Pizzaro, with only about 160 armed Spaniards, would be able to send the Inca empire, almost 10 million strong, into a death spiral?

In times of intense change, a transformative wisdom is called for – one which is not easy to arrive at using an extrapolation of what has worked well in the past. At these times we have to dig a lot deeper – into the fundamentals of what it means to be human, and even to the nature and purpose of what it means to be intelligent in this universe. Towards that end, let us take a look at the primary types of intelligence that have been attributed to humans.

Types of Intelligence

The way we have traditionally measured intelligence is primarily as a measure of our intellectual fitness at about the stage of a young adult. The skills tested – Verbal, Quantitative and Logical correspond roughly to the kinds of skills we build up through educational accomplishment. In fact the original trend proposed for IQ measurements was tied to age, and modeled a person’s IQ (Intelligence Quotient) as rising gradually through childhood till age 16, and then staying flat through middle age - till old age began to take its toll on mental sharpness. It is now acknowledged that some aspects of intelligence continue to develop with age (esp. vocabulary); so a case could be made for why IQ would peak in the early 20’s before beginning a long graceful decline.

A different measure of Intelligence that is proposed to be a better indicator of career success than IQ has been proposed – called Emotional Intelligence (or EQ). This is the kind of intelligence we would use in a socially interactive setting to bring out the best in ourselves, and also in others that we interact with. Part of cultivating our EQ has been the skill of being mindful of others, and the capability of aligning our goals with other individuals or groups.

EQ is not destiny—emotional intelligence is a different way of being smart. It includes knowing your feelings and using them to make good decisions; managing your feelings well; motivating yourself with zeal and persistence; maintaining hope in the face of frustration; exhibiting empathy and compassion; interacting smoothly; and managing your relationships effectively.

            - Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence

EQ is not as quantifiable as IQ – and is much harder to measure using standardized tests. Roughly, EQ can be translated to the degree of success at about the time we are middle aged – typically when we are at the height of our economic footprint.

Later in life there is yet another aspect of intelligence that comes into the picture – which we refer to as Spiritual Intelligence. At this stage we are working on knowing our core identity and the purpose that brings meaning to our individual and collective presence here on planet earth.

Spritual intelligence is our access to and use of meaning, vision and value in the way that we think and the decision that we make.       - Danah Zohar

Danah Zohar and Ian Marshall in their book ‘Spiritual Intelligence: The Ultimate Intelligence’ make a case for why Spiritual Intelligence is the intelligence that makes us whole, and gives us our integrity. The Spirituality Quotient (SQ) is even harder to quantify than EQ, but qualitatively can be linked to our spiritual wisdom and our ability to grapple with core existential questions. It also correlates with our ability to synthesize a greater integrative vision for all of humanity, as well as our ability to take a very complex reality and condense it down to a cultural essence that can become timeless.

Figure 1: Projected IQ, EQ and SQ development for typical humans today

If we were to follow a typical human going through their full life, and plot out the growth of their IQ, EQ and SQ as they age, we would likely see a series of peaks for the various aspects of intelligence (Figure 1). The IQ line rises fastest and flattens out by the time we are in the early 20’s. The drop off of IQ towards the very end of our natural lives is largely a function of the degradation of the brain itself with old age. The EQ line keeps rising until we are well into our 40’s – which roughly correlates to the age group of people in leadership positions worldwide. The SQ curve, however, appears to dip down as we approach our teenage years, and only begins to pick up as we come to the limits of our own IQ growth in the early 20s. Since we are yet to come up with a way to reliably measure SQ or even EQ, these observations are quite subjective, and could easily change if sufficient emphasis was put on the development of these intelligences as part of our general education.

Having discussed the three main forms of Intelligence as we progress through the human life cycle, we can extrapolate that all three types of intelligence need to be cultivated and mastered in an overall civilizational context. A civilization that exhibits a balance of IQ, EQ and SQ is qualitatively different from one that gets by based on IQ alone. Moving from the individual level – to the Civilizational Brain for all of humanity – yet another type of intelligence comes into the picture. This is the intelligence to apply the various other intelligences already listed above, and the ability to help individuals develop the relevant mental capabilities as they move through life. This is the intelligence that keeps society balanced and dynamic – and develops a wisdom which is progressive and aspirational. Let us term this measure of intelligence to be the PQ or Philosophical Quotient of the Civilization. Needless to say, the current PQ of our Human Civilization is perilously close to zero, and can only be measured after we have put in place a mechanism that acts like a civilizational brain which can scale to reach all of humanity.

Wisdom, and the Civilizational Brain

When we think about an institution that is in place to look after the best interests of all of humanity, we typically think about the United Nations. Can the United Nations be the core organization around which we can form our civilizational brain? Are there any other organizations that are better suited? Or do we need to start from scratch?

Let us count some of the attributes that a ‘civilizational brain’ must eventually have in order to deal effectively with monumental change. The human brain does serve as a rough blueprint as to what capabilities are needed to be put in place for the civilizational brain to work best with the civilizational body.

1.      It needs to appeal to all of humanity as an integrative entity. Thus, it cannot be a religious organization, or an ethnic organization.

2.      Ideally it should not even be a political organization. Politics has a nasty habit of dividing people. Even with democratic plurality, the emphasis is typically on winning the mandate, but only with the bare minimum support necessary to function. Even the UN Security Council, with its five permanent members, is very much a political body, and its limitations must be recognized.

3.      It must be able to act locally based on individual needs, yet,

4.      It must be able to escalate sufficiently weighty issues to the Global level to organize concerted action.

5.      Also, it must be able to support the slowest and most inclusive dialogue when it comes to the core purpose and direction of humanity’s presence here on Planet Earth, yet,

6.      It must be able to act with lightning quickness when disaster is about to strike.

As noted earlier, just having a civilizational intelligence does not mean we have wisdom as a civilization. If we were to follow the same logic from our individual lives as to how to develop a civilizational wisdom, the steps might look as follows:

A.     Learn about all the aspects of our civilizational existence, including the deep variety we have within the civilizational body.

B.     Create a deep understanding that interconnects all the facets of civilizational existence (physical to metaphysical, potential to actual, etc.)

C.     Create a mental model where we can check out with reasonable realism, how multiple eventualities may play out.

Before we take a further look at how the Civilizational Wisdom may be developed, let us take a quick look at some of the challenges that we face as humanity, so that our response may be proportionate to the challenges we are facing. Also, in our current developmental juncture as humanity, we have only the faintest of ideas as to the default organizational principles within our Universe. If we can recognize these early – they might help us avoid the evolutionary trap that seems to be looming before us.

The Evolutionary Trap

The evolutionary trap can be summarized as follows. Following the evolutionary maxim of ‘Survival of the fittest’ – humans are about to be surpassed by machines in every aspect of ‘fitness’ (e.g. intelligence, quick reflexes, brute force etc.). The process for creating ever faster, smarter machines is well known, and after a while human participation may not even be necessary to keep the wheel of machine development churning. History tells us that there are but three options available to a population that is struggling to retain a foothold in a new emerging reality:

1.      Give up in the face of overwhelming odds, and possibly go extinct.

2.      Find a niche where we are particularly well suited, and persuade the emerging powers to let us remain as a shadow of our former self.

3.      Come up with a symbiotic relationship with the emerging reality, so that the core of what we are can be carried on to the next level.

Option 3 is the least likely to happen in most evolutionary scenarios, yet when it does happen, it opens up great vistas of opportunity for the ensuing symbiotic organism(s). Perhaps the most celebrated case of symbiotic union is the development of the first Eukaryotic Cells having a well-defined nucleus – about 1.5 billion years ago. The genetic material from the Prokaryotic predecessors (e.g. mitochondrial DNA) still lives on within our body, and have become the metabolic powerhouse that allowed future multi-cellular creatures (including humans) to evolve.

The Symbiotic Civilizational Brain

To the astute reader, it is already apparent that steps A-C listed above to develop a transformative wisdom in a civilizational brain, is beyond the capacity of any individual human. Hence we have to look outside our individual intellects for the nuts and bolts that would make up a civilizational brain. Luckily, much of the infrastructure required to have a functional nervous system that supports the brain is in place – with the advent of the high speed internet.  Also, much of the knowledge of humanity already is resident on the servers connected to the internet, but there is a lot more that can be brought on line. Thus, step A of the civilizational brain appears to be already in progress – knowing, of course that a lot more needs to be done here.

Step B, or creating a contiguous understanding of all of human knowledge, including diversity of viewpoint, where necessary, is a huge task. Yet, this too is in the radar screen – for companies that are in the business of searching and summarizing the content on the internet. Moving forward, as we attempt to connect to the core meaning of being human, we will also need to ask and answer the question: What does it mean to ‘be’ as a symbiotic human-machine entity, with aspirations that match the scale of the Universe?

For step C, certain domains of wisdom are easier to model (relatively speaking) than others. For example, based on an undersea seismic occurrence, we would be able to model and predict exactly where and when the tidal waves will appear. It would even be possible to simulate and model human behavior – especially when it comes to resolving human conflicts. For example, immersive interfaces into these interactive models can help the potential conflicting parties to hear, feel, see, and even live the viewpoints and perspective of the other side. Yet, we have to go beyond the comfort of what we already know – if we are to tackle the really big issues.

To contend with totally unknown situations in this universe, a deeper understanding of how the universe operates will be needed. The spiritual equivalent of ‘Symbiosis’ is ‘Yoga’ – the mechanism that unites our body and mind, our material and spiritual existence, and combines our often conflicting aspirations. A full discourse on the wisdom of ‘Yoga’ is not possible here, but its principles seem to apply from atoms and molecules, to the cells of our body, to human bodies and human relationships, and even to the symbiotic man-machine civilization that we are about to become. It is reasonable to assume that the principles of 1:1 joining which allows the component parts to act individually, but still be connected and share a presence, globally; can be scaled all the way to the dimensions of the entire universe. For further details on Yogic Patterns please feel free to check out the following web site: www.iooi.org


A transformational change as to what it means to be human is in the works. A higher degree of wisdom, a Transformative Wisdom, is required for humanity to deal effectively with the challenges and opportunities that are being presented before us. Individual human intelligence and wisdom, though quite powerful, are no longer going to be sufficient - as we grapple with issues that would transform the very core of our being.

Part of what we will need to develop is a civilizational intelligence, and a civilizational wisdom. It is becoming clear that the greatest intelligence of a single human is no longer enough to even fully grasp the emerging reality, leave alone creating a mental model of it and determining the best course(s) of action. The best possibility for developing a civilizational wisdom appears to be to work cooperatively with the help of machines, to combine the various facets of human existence into a meaningful whole. Longer term, the best chances for humanity to expand out our intelligence, our wisdom, to the level of the Universe seems to be for us to work closely with machine intelligence. To do so we would need to form a symbiotic union that is more robust, more scalable, more capable - than what we could ever hope for as purely biological, individual, human beings.