Posts Tagged ‘Metacognition’

Metacognition: Wisdom’s Keystone

June 20, 2014

Wisdom, Progress, Metacognition & The Human Condition Are Entangled

THE PAST: BRUTISH, PAINFUL, & SHORT:

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).

***

WISDOM HAS NOT PROFITTED MUCH FROM LIFE EXTENSION, SO FAR:

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.

WISDOM HAS PROGRESSED, FOR THE BEST:

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 WISDOM’s KEYSTONE

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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