Contextual integrative thinking and wisdom research

Wisdom research is currently in the midst of an obvious pluralism as there are already dozens of existing models and new ones are constantly created. In the light of the long historical, cultural, religious, and spiritual traditions tracing back thousands of years, it is evident that wisdom is an elusive concept to define. Here it may be sufficient to define it shortly as an ideal goal of human development (Swartwood & Tiberius, 2019, p. 20), and “value term embedded in cultural context” (Assmann, 1994, p. 187). Despite or perhaps just because of its elusive nature, wisdom has definitely fascinated people in all cultures at all times and the concept is now living its Renaissance in various scientific disciplines, especially in psychology (Sternberg & Glück, 2019; see also Chapter 10). Wisdom is a phenomenon that has interested researchers in both pre-modem and modem psychology. The concept has a philosophical-theological background related to the cultural wisdom traditions of the East and the West. Wisdom research basically and necessarily calls for connections to various other fields of study besides psychology, such as comparative religion, history of philosophy, cross-cultural studies, and esotericism research (Assmann, 1994; Curnow, 1999, 2015; Helskog, 2019; Walsh, 2015).

Wisdom is intimately linked to adult development, as wisdom is seen as the highest developmental goal and prospect of human progress (Erikson & Erikson, 1998). Significant research into these connections is going on in different domains (see Sternberg & Glück, 2019).

Wisdom research is nowadays highly heterogeneous as diverse models, classifications, and tasks are constantly created. These conceptualisations of psychological wisdom research could perhaps be integrated to constitute a kind of “Wisdom as an Ideal Goal” model, linking together various domains of psychological and developmental psychological research, such as those pertaining to neuropsychology, personality, cognitive functions, emotions, morals and values, spirituality, and religious thinking. Such an integrative approach could be most appropriate in analysing the basic psychological mechanisms and processes that underlie wisdom. Drawing on research results from different fields and taking the “ideal goal of human development” as an umbrella term could also be the easiest way to reach a comprehensive definition of wisdom. Each culture seems to have human ideals of this kind, even if the content may vary (e.g., Western vs. Eastern differences between cognitive vs. affective domains of wisdom Ass-mann, 1994; Takahashi & Bordia, 2000).

In the following I focus on the relationship between wisdom and adult cognitive development. The close connection between postformal or relativistic-dialectical thinking and wisdom has been pointed out by many scholars. In scholarly discussion, postformal and relativistic-dialectical thinking are used interchangeably as a subcomponent of wisdom (Arlin, 1993; Asadi, Khorshidi, & Glück, 2019; Baltes & Staudinger, 2000; Bassett, 2005; Compton & Hoffman, 2013; Gidley, 2016; Grossmann, 2017; Kallio, 2015, 2016b; Kramer, 2003; Kunzmann, 2004; Plociennik, 2018; Smith, 2019; Staudinger & Glück, 2011; Yang, 2008).

Earlier in this chapter adult cognitive development has been defined in terms of multiperspective and contextual integrative thinking. In multiperspective thinking, a wise person reflects deeply on different viewpoints and weighs them carefully. Multiperspective thinking means the ability to abandon egocentric orientation so as to distance oneself in a problematic situation and consider it from different perspectives. Looking at things from multiple perspectives brings intellectual humility, as one realises that there might be no straightforward, one solution to problems. It also makes it possible to understand the relativity of viewpoints and the context- and situation-dependency of problems, implying also uncertainty of knowledge (e.g., Grossmann, 2017).

As Staudinger and Glück (2011) state, wisdom can be regarded as a skill to integrate necessary factors of existence that contradict with each other. Thus, one is able to understand and connect e.g., moral good and evil, dependency and independency, doubt and certainty, control and chaos, limitedness and infinity, and selfishness and unselfishness. In doing so, one can also integrate motivation, emotion, and thinking. The fusion of rationality and intuition is possible as enabled by flexible logic (Sternberg, 2013). Grossmann (2017, p. 235) and his colleagues have defined wise thinking as “intellectual humility or recognition of limits of own knowledge, appreciation of perspectives broader than the issue at hand, sensitivity to the possibility of change in social relations, and compromise or integration of different opinions”.

Figure 2.2 summarises the main views discussed in this chapter. The original key concept of this chapter, adult cognitive development, is rephrased as contextual integrative thinking (i.e., “postformal’7“relativistic-dialectical thinking”). It has direct links to different theoretical traditions, from Piaget’s theory to Perry and Kohlberg, and it also has links to more humanistic psychological models (see e.g., Misiak & Sexton, 1973), like those exemplified by Jung and Ken Wilber. All these models have focused on particular psychological domains, like Piaget’s theory on the manipulation of physical objects. Also, learning research discussed in this edition is included in the Figure - as, for example, theorisation of tacit and expert knowledge have direct links to wisdom research (Baltes & Staudinger, 2000; Sternberg, 2013; see Chapters 9 and 10). Different ontological preunderstandings and related assumptions are also included in Figure 2.2, indicating adult understanding of qualitative differences in reality.

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