University of Chicago Opened U.S.-China Exchange on Wisdom Studies

By Zhang Qingsong and Howard C. Nusbaum

A video of Howard Nusbaum’s presentation can be found here.

Upon the invitation of the China Wisdom Engineering Association, the Southwest University of China, and the Institute of Chinese Wisdom Studies (Los Angeles), Professor Howard C. Nusbaum, Principal Investigator of the University of Chicago Wisdom Research Project, recently completed a 10-day trip to China, marking the first successful academic exchange between U.S. and China wisdom researchers.

On December 8-10, 2012, China held the fourth Wisdom Studies Conference in Beijing. About 100 wisdom researchers, K-12 principals and teachers, and some local educational government officials participated in discussions on various topics in wisdom research and wisdom education. In the opening ceremony, held on the morning of December 9, Mr. Gu Mingyuan (President of China Educational Society), Mr. Yu Guangyuan (a well known Chinese economist), and a few other well known scholars delivered keynote speeches. Howard Nusbaum, Professor of Psychology and Co-Director of the Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience at the University of Chicago, introduced the background, history, and progress of the University of Chicago Wisdom Research Project supported by the John Templeton Foundation. Following Professor Nusbaum’s talk, Dr. Zhang Qingsong gave a presentation entitled, “Wisdom Studies: An Outlook for U.S.-China Cooperation”.

Progress made on wisdom studies in the U.S. generated great excitement among the Chinese wisdom researchers. Several school principals and teachers in K-12th-grade classrooms shared their experiences and described their wisdom experiments conducted in wisdom education. “It is very striking to see how many wisdom education concepts were investigated and discussed, and how eagerly educators are looking for theoretical guidance”, said Zhang Qingsong. Plans for a joint U.S.-China Wisdom Studies Conference to be held in Beijing in 2014 were proposed and warmly welcomed at the meeting.

“Across presentations, there was substantial agreement on several important points regarding education in China, as well as in the United States,” Nusbaum said. “First, there is recognition that wisdom is more than intelligence and creativity combined, and more than knowledge and skills. Wisdom involves understanding others and respecting others (grounded in empathy) as well as the engagement of prosocial values and virtues. Second, although wisdom is recognized to have an important place in education, currently it is seldom explicitly part of curricula. Educational practices, from elementary school to college, tend to focus on the delivery of information and the development of academic skills. While academic knowledge and skills are important for developing wisdom, they are not sufficient. Third, it was recognized that there is a need to understand more deeply how best to teach wisdom, especially in respect of adding empathy and prosocial considerations to curricula. Finally, the concern was discussed that there are already tight constraints on the school day in terms of what is currently taught and required, and there may be little room to incorporate new educational goals. This raises a problem for education as a field to consider whether the current structure of teaching can accommodate everything that needs to be taught.”

On December 11, Professor Nusbaum gave a speech to an audience of about 100 at the University of Chicago Beijing Center. The subject of wisdom research clearly interested the audience, generating a number of thoughtful questions. On December 12, he visited a Beijing suburban town of Yang Fang where he had interesting discussions with Mr. Zhao Mingwang, a recognized Tao Master, on Chinese traditional life philosophies and on the possibility of future collaborations on scientific experiments on mind-body interactions. These discussions focused on the traditional Tao perspective of the important links between mental and physical training, and how they interact in developing something deeply related to an understanding of wisdom in Chinese philosophy.

Professor Nusbaum concluded his trip with four days at the School of Psychology at Southwest University of China in the City of Chongqing where he participated in a number of broad and impactful discussions on psychological studies of innovation, creativity, and wisdom research with a research group led by Professor Zhang Qingling. These discussions generated several ideas for future joint research. “These collaborations will involve a range of new experiments from understanding the development of insight and the role of metaphor and its underlying neural mechanisms, the role of sleep in consolidating insight and social understanding, to the way in which traditional Chinese meditation and Taoist practices can shape aspects of wisdom,” said Nusbaum. Throughout the visit it was clear that there is significant interest in wisdom research and furthering a field of wisdom science on a global scale.

Photo courtesy of the University of Chicago Center in Beijing.



  • Spring said:

    The understanding that wisdom is teachable and that wisdom studies should be part of K-16  curricula is long due. The key question is indeed the practical one. But, it seems that it is not a simple transition from theory to practice. Being a new educational terrain, practice changes existing  theoretical assumptions.

    For the last 5 years I have been implementing

    Wisdom oriented projects  with participants from The Chinese Academy of Sciences and students from USA, Finland and the Middle East ( Israeli and Palestinians).

    Wisdom education is definitely grounded in empathy, understanding others and in nowadays diverse societies-in intercultural awareness. From my experience, I would suggest to integrate  Wisdom education into the mainstream schooling systems. That, of course, is a process that will require specially trained tutors.

    I will share more about my experience in a separate post.    


    March 22, 2013 3:51 AM
  • News said:

    December 11, 2012 The study of wisdom has long been a scholarly activity confined largely to disciplines


    April 4, 2013 2:19 PM
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