Metacognition: Wisdom’s Keystone

Wisdom, Progress, Metacognition & The Human Condition Are Entangled


Except for a few dedicated sadomasochists, nobody would want to live as in centuries passed. Take for example, France’s “Sun-King”, Louis XIV. He reigned for half a century, and it seems an enviable position. Until one learns that he had to undergo years of experimental surgery, in places much innervated, to correct an extremely painful and embarrassing infected and enflamed fistula. That prevented him to ride a horse. Or even walk. Operations were made without anesthetics.

Metacognition Holds Wisdom Together

Metacognition Holds Wisdom Together

[Keystone of Palazzo Borgazzo, Milan.]

As smaller incisions were not palliative enough, the top surgeons trained all over Paris for inventing the ways and means of the “Grande Operation”. They invented new curved scalpels. Louis kept on repeating “Mon Dieu!” during the long procedure.

The surgeons succeeded. Among other rewards, the king agreed to recognize “surgery” as a medical specialty and guild of its own (to the ire of normal doctors).

However, at the end of Louis XIV’s life, only one grandson of the Sun-King was still alive. The rest of his vast family had died of disease (although one of his heirs was the Bourbon king of Spain). Louis himself enjoyed three weeks of increasing gangrene in his rotting leg, until he succumbed. All of that still without pain killers. Overall, the Sun-King was affected with painful disease during much of his 72 year reign (dental abscesses, gout, suppurating periostitis in 1678, boils, fainting spells, diabetes, etc.)

So the past, even the recent past, was grim.

Anesthetics (aside from the traditional alcohol and opium) were invented in the mid nineteenth century. Antibiotics (bacteriophages, sulfamids, and finally penicillin) appeared a century ago or so. Until then, severe injuries were best treated with red hot irons (red hot plates in the frequent case of amputations).



The biosphere evolved over billions of years. Now it is taken over by critters who live for just a few years. Solution? Make it so that said critters live longer, thus attaching a greater value upon survival.

Paul Handover commented on this: “I presume that the ‘said critters’ refer to humans? The average lifespan of humans has increased hugely. From a life expectancy of 30 years [1] at birth in Medieval Britain, back in the 13th Century, to an average of 67.2 years for humans worldwide in 2010. [2]

That’s an increase of 124% in a little over 700 years.  Yet despite that incredible increase in lifespan, humans have shown no interest in attaching a greater value to their survival: far from it!  One might even muse that humans have attached a greater value to those things that actively harm our survival.”

Patrice Ayme: Although the average lifespan has increased, not so for the maximum lifespan. Sophocles was in his nineties when he wrote his work. Most of the famous Greeks lived very long then (because of their diet), and produced much wisdom. Elders are the ones steering civilization with ideas, for the best… Or the worst.

My expectation is that the longer human life is, the more worthy it gets, and thus, the more it is felt to be precious, hence the more philosophy emphasizing the emotions conducive to the valuation of life, will come to dominate.

With elders, or leaders who do not live long, I do not expect their wisdom to live long, either.

Indeed, up to recent times, many of the political leaders were, because of the nature of plutocratic inheritance, extremely young when they got to power (Nero, Caligula, Constantine, Justinian, Louis XIV, or the Pitts Prime Ministers of the UK, are notorious examples). So one would expect stupidity to reign, as observed.

All the adolescent leaders did was to pick up their elders’ wisdom, as they found it, and try to parrot it: Nero learned all from his clever mom, Augustus from his great uncle Caesar, etc.

For example, Augustus gained power when he was barely out of adolescence (as heir of Caesar). His rule reflected a decisive lack of wisdom relative to Caesar, including indulging in obvious crimes, something Caesar was never caught doing for all history to see (Augustus, for example had Caesarion, the son of Caesar and Cleopatra, a child he was related to, assassinated). Then Augustus made a hash of the German problem, etc.


Human beings attach greater value to the survival: right now, the death rate from conflict is, by far, the lowest ever. By several orders of magnitude.

The “good savage” myth of Rousseau, was just a figment of his stunted imagination. In truth, real savages spent most of their time savaging each other, as archeological findings have since testified.

Wisdom has, overall, increased. The Roman Empire was unable to handle its entangled resource, commodities, economic and ecology crises. Western Europe, around 1300 CE reached a similar population (75 million), a similar state of development as Rome at its apex, and a similar crisis. Moreover, the climate entered the “Little Ice Age”, and the “Black Death” (the plague) showed up.

On the face of it, the situation was worse.

However, the European leaders then took enough of the right decisions for Western civilization to survive and accelerate its march forward.

Why did wisdom improve?

No choice. Survival, of oneself, or, even better, those we love, is the best motivation there is. European leaders remembered the crash of civilization that was the Late Roman empire, and fully remembered that they were supposed to be the “Renovated Roman Empire”. So they renovated.

Drastic ecological measures were taken, under the penalty of death.


Metacognition Is Laid First

Metacognition Is Laid First

Civilization progresses, because technology progresses, and the latter advances, because science understands the world ever more. However this scientific progress REQUIRES and thus IMPELS, ever more sophisticated wisdom. And thus drastic philosophy.

Indeed, subjacent to science is an enormous amount of philosophy. A part of this philosophy is METACOGNITIVE. That means that it reflects not just on what we know, but how we got to know it. Metacognition is a necessary component to the advancement of science.

Metacognition is the clé de voûte, the keystone of human understanding. it is related to the Greeks’ famous “Know Thyself!”. But it is not reduced to it. It’s rather: “Find out how you know what you know about yourself, and whatever!

Recent studies have shown that metacognition is not just useful in psychology, but even, in hard core psychiatry. Really crazy people’s mental states improve when it is explained to them how their faulty cognitive system mislead them.

Interestingly (and contrarily to how the English Wikipedia has it), the cle de voute was deposed first, and the voussoirs, later (as the forces need to be perfectly balanced). So it is with any intelligence, and that’s what parents are for. Metacognition comes first. As evermore clever, and wiser, human parents fulfill their role of nourishing progress in human understanding, metacognition has kept improving.

I am confident it will reach high enough a level for civilization to survive, as long as advanced philosophers can bark loud enough to steer the sheep where the rich pastures of truth radiantly lay in wait.

Patrice Aymé


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7 Responses to “Metacognition: Wisdom’s Keystone”

  1. EugenR Says:

    Dear Patrice, this is a wonderful quote;

    “My expectation is that the longer human life is, the more worthy it gets, and thus, the more it is felt to be precious, hence the more philosophy emphasizing the emotions conducive to the valuation of life, will come to dominate.”

    Yet i have to disagree with your historical analysis.

    1. If Julius Cesar would do better, the world history would develop towards more positive trend. First he was a soldier with ambition to conquer the world. (He was murdered a day before leaving to conquer the Persians.). He would probably not left the Germans to destroy Roman regiments, and if it would happen he would not leave it just there. Augustus administrative reforms started Julius himself. This was also the reason why he was murdered by the Roman aristocrats (Plutocrats) who felt they are dispossess of their political power.
    Augustus rule was wise and successful, but he failed to create system of succession, and was outmaneuvered by his wife to appoint Tiberius a murderous tyrant, who was then followed by even more murderous ones. So Augustus created the Roman statehood, but also seeded the seeds of its destruction, by not creating a proper system of succession.
    2. As to the question how the western world made the scientific breakthrough, let me put this question to an other form,

    “How come the philosophers and scientists of classical world (mainly Greeks) did not do the needed scientific brake through?”.

    Let me turn your attention to a correspondence about the subject i had with ianmillerblog, who is one of the followers of this blog;

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Dear Eugen: Thanks for the appreciation. Much appreciated, as usual.

      I see not much difference between my facts on Augustus and Caesar and yours. I indeed long called attention on the fact Caesar was going to go conquer Persia and Germania when he was assassinated.

      Our difference about Augustus holds in just one word: “wise”. You adopt the traditional position that Augustus was “wise”. So, basically, can someone who destroyed human rights and the law to that extent, be “wise”. Was it “wise” to assassinate Caesarion?

      So it’s traditional to say Augustus was “wise”, and, oooppss, just that little problem of “succession”. But the latter is the consequence of the fact the regime was anti-constitutional (although that was traditional and oral, greatly, it was violated). Actually the applications of the laws of the Republic had been suspended (and that’s what had started the war with the Gracchi).

      In truth, Augustus’ regime was a junta. (To talk like Putin, but for real!) Caesar, on the other hand, was (up to the “dictator for life” error) mostly legal (that’s why he walked single and unarmed in the Senate that day).

      This is also why Rome became military unsuccessful (the German problem was solved by the Franks, not the Romans). Also Rome became a circus act and soon fiscally unsound (as plutocrats refused to pay ever more, and there was no more Augustus to assassinate them).
      More later.

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      I looked a bit in the exchange you had with Ian. I have covered myself the subject many times. Although not in a forceful manner. I should do it again. The problem holds in just one word: plutocracy. Aristotle was a great philosopher, and scientist. But he was just one man. It’s plutocracy that killed Greek science.

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      When was the so called “scientific breakthrough”? I say by 1330 CE (BURIDAN). Principle of inertia, momentum, heliocentric theory justify by “circular impetus”, invention of graphs.
      You see, conventional historians don’t even have that one.
      How can they do logic, when they don’t have the facts?
      The Copernicus revolution was socially important, but, in the history of ideas, it’s just the rebound of Buridan’s partly crushed revolution. That’s pursued now, because Anglo-Saxon terror capitalists wants us to believe that the English and Americans invented everything, including all what the Franks/French found.
      So much for conventional historians.

      • EugenR Says:

        Sorry for Buridan, but as much as i know about him, he did have the right ideas, but with very little influence on others. This is why i mentioned Fibonacci who lived about 100 years before him and not him. His mathematical ideas were crucial to push forward the science from the point Aristotle and some other Greeks reached. From this point of view Copernicus and even more Galileo were more successful.

        But my question was and still is, why the Greeks did not do the breakthrough? Yes they did not know algebra, zero and the Hindu-Arab numbering system. But still it remains mystery why they did not have it? As to the heliocentric system Eratosthenes developed the idea 1500 years before anybody else. And then you had Archimedes, who not only was a great mathematician but used his knowledge for technological inventions. Al these ideas and more should be quite widespread in the classical world, and yet they did not help them to develop modern science as we know it today.

        • Patrice Ayme Says:

          Dear Eugen: Buridan was hyper famous in his lifetime, more than Einstein. His law of inertia is written in the same words that he obviously copied, thus, from Newton, who was born more than 300 years later.

          Buridan, as I said many times, was personal advisor to four kings or so. He was HEAD of the University of Paris (biggest, most powerful in the world at the time). He taught countless. Not just Oresmes, but the entire Oxford computation school. So I suggest you move away from your Vatican induced position.

          As I explained a few zillion times, Copernic was taught BURIDAN, MANDATORILY, in Cracow. So, if no one else, Buridan influenced TAUGHT Copernic.

          You are VERY right to attract attention on Fibonacci. Fibonacci introduced the so-called modus Indorum (way of the INDIANS…not the Arabs…). That was in 1202. With Abelard 60 years earlier, it’s clear that the RENAISSANCE was fully on. In the middle of the Middle Ages.

          Funny how you don’t get my idea of what killed intellectuality around 300 BCE.
          P L U T O C R A C Y.
          Aristotle fled for his life. You know how Archimedes died. Do you know how Demosthenes died? Both died a few years apart. From violence by plutocrats. Think of it: the Einsteins and Nietzsches of the times were killed like rats.

          What we know today is the Multiverse, a plutocratically induced (I have explained) madness, more grotesque than anything proposed in the last 6,000 years.

        • Patrice Ayme Says:

          The fascist Jew killers of the Vatican cracked down on Buridan, shortly after they treacherously roasted Hus alive, around 1470, with the collaboration of Louis Xi, the caging king. Need I say more? I propose to stop following the Vatican fascists’ train of thought and mood, that led straight to Auschwitz.

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