The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom. Isaac Asimov, popular science fiction writer
The editor of The Good Life magazine recently suggested that I write a particular article...one which is way out of my league. For going on 17 years, I have been writing articles for the local magazine. Now at this late moment in my career, the editor thinks I should write something about artificial intelligence. Wild. The idea came about however not only because a few people are getting more and more interested (sometimes alarmed) about what AI can do but also because, in fact, I have been optimistically, though amateurishly, fooling around with it. It's fascinating. Ideally it could help us both personally and as a society.
I’m not sure I have the wherewithal to do that AI article but while doing this back and forth with the editor, I was also thinking about the topic of wisdom, reflecting on wisdom – what it is and how we get better at it (and that all came about because of some comments and newspaper clippings that a reader, Dr. Gerald Gibbons, had sent – more on that later). It struck me that AI could help me sort through some ideas.
For kicks, I pasted a piece into chatgpt 3.5. The article I put in is by Anne Lamott (she has a new book coming out in April, but this article is from an opinion piece in The Washington Post in November of last year) which struck me as very possibly having a lot of wisdom in it. See what you think before I tell you how it fares with artificial intelligence as the grader. Consider how it matches up with your assessment. Here goes:
Essay from Anne Lamott, The Secret Portals of Age
Today I woke up old and awful in every way. I simultaneously cannot bear the news and cannot turn it off: It’s cobra hypnosis — Gaza, Israel, the shootings in Maine. The world is as dark as a scarab. I have two memorial services on my calendar this week. A dear friend is in the hospital waiting for a liver, dying. She keeps assuring me, “I ain’t in no ways tired,” and I say, “Oh, stop with that or I’m not going to visit again.”
I’m exhausted just driving 90 minutes to and from San Francisco to see her. My body hurt quite a lot when I got out of bed this morning, and I limped around like Granny Clampett for the first hour, until it unseized. Worse, my mind hurt, my heart hurt and I hated almost everyone, except my husband, my grandson and one of the dogs. I don’t think I could have borne up under all this 20 years ago when I thought I knew so much about life.
That was not nearly as much as I knew at 33, which is when we know more than we ever will again. But age has given me the ability to hang out without predicting how things will sort out this time (mostly — depending on how I’ve slept).
In many of Albert Bierstadt’s Western paintings, there is a darkness on one side, maybe a mountain or its shadow. Then toward the middle, animals graze or drink from a lake or stream. And then at the far right or in the sky, splashes of light lie like shawls across the shoulders of the mountains. The great darkness says to me what I often say to heartbroken friends — “I don’t know.”
Is there meaning in the Maine shootings? I don’t know. Not yet. My white-haired husband said on our first date seven years ago that “I don’t know” is the portal to the richness inside us. This insight was one reason I agreed to a second date (along with his beautiful hands). It was a game-changer. Twenty years earlier, when my brothers and I were trying to take care of our mother in her apartment when she first had Alzheimer’s, we cried out to her gerontology nurse, “We don’t know if she can stay here, how to help her take her meds, how to get her to eat better since she forgets.” And the nurse said gently, “How could you know?”
This literally had not crossed our minds. We just thought we were incompetent. In the shadow of the mountain of our mother’s decline, we hardly knew where to begin. So we started where we were, in the not knowing.
In the center of many Bierstadt paintings, you sometimes see animals grazing or drinking. They’re fine, they’re animals; they are just doing animals. But they are not the point — the point is the light. No matter how low you are, the light can reach you. It falls on animals, including us. This is positively biblical.
Some of Bierstadt’s animals are lined up at the water as if they’re going to march onto Noah’s Ark. Or they’re huddled together as on a park bench, just hanging out. You have to wonder if the older deer are slightly surprised upon waking every morning, as I am, fumbling around for their glasses. The animals never seem to have anywhere to go.
In my younger days when the news was too awful, I sought meaning in it. Now, not so much. The meaning is that we have come through so much, and we take care of each other and, against all odds, heal, imperfectly. We still dance, but in certain weather, it hurts. (Okay, always.)
The portals of age also lead to the profound (indeed earthshaking) understanding that people are going to do what people are going to do: They do not want my always-good ideas on how to have easier lives and possibly become slightly less annoying. Now there is some acceptance (partly born of tiredness) that I can’t rescue or fix anyone, not even me.
Sometimes this affords me a kind of plonky peace, fascination and even wonder at people and life as they tromp on by. The price of aging is high: constant aches, real pain and barely survivable losses. But each time my hip unseizes, it reminds me that this life is not going to go on forever, and that is what makes it so frigging precious.
Another gift of aging is the precipitous decline in melodrama. Enjoying how unremarkable life is takes practice and time, and then the little things start to shine and delight. Life gets smaller and in its smallness it starts winking at you.
On my first day back in New Mexico recently, the high desert looked barren and brown. Pretty, yes, but a little dead. Then the tiny desert flowers, yellow, lavender, magenta and baby blue, made their way into my consciousness, and the earth’s shades of ochre and red started to warm me, and before long the formerly dead desert was alive and awash in dynamic, undulating streams of color. Sometimes at the right or the top center of Bierstadt paintings is a trippy splash of light, often a mystical, jagged slash that breaks through dirty-looking or white-fire clouds. There might be bright reflections, or long, slanted fingers of sun shining down with religious airs, organ music playing softly in the background. Puffy rainclouds glow. All say, “Yes, there is the deep dark, but we have some light as well.”
Will my brothers or I inherit our mother’s Alzheimer’s? I don’t know. I do know that I recently parked in front of my house and sort of forgot to turn off the engine. Three hours later, a formerly standoffish young neighbor knocked on my door to tell me this, and I pretended to have known. I said the battery had been low and so I was letting it recharge.
“Ah,” she said. Now she is sweet when she sees me. We wave to each other when we pass in our cars, reflecting a new affection.
Reflections say, “In the dark, there’s still some light around. So don’t ever think things are too dark. We’re not going to give you the entire reserve, but we just want you to know it is there. And more may be on its way.”
NOW the artificial intelligence verdict. How does chatgpt 3.5 rate the essay on wisdom? I asked it to analyze the essay through the lens of the Berlin Wisdom Paradigm (more on the paradigm way, way later some day).
Analyzing the provided essay through the lens of the Berlin Wisdom Paradigm, we can identify several elements that reflect a nuanced and wise perspective:
The author acknowledges a range of emotions, including feelings of exhaustion, pain, and moments of hating others. However, they also express love for specific individuals (husband, grandson, and a dog), demonstrating emotional balance and an ability to navigate complex emotions.
The author faces challenging global and personal situations (news, memorial services, friend's illness) without providing simple answers or judgments. Instead, there is a recognition of uncertainty and an openness to not knowing the meaning behind tragic events, reflecting a tolerant and open-minded approach.
The acknowledgment of not knowing the meaning in the face of challenging events aligns with the Berlin Wisdom Paradigm. The author appreciates that age has given them the ability to hang out without predicting outcomes, emphasizing a realistic and humble stance toward life's uncertainties.
The essay reflects an awareness of personal growth and change over time. The author contrasts their current ability to handle challenges with their perception of themselves 20 years ago, highlighting the evolving nature of wisdom and self-awareness.
While the essay does not explicitly delve into factual knowledge, the references to Albert Bierstadt's Western paintings and the biblical imagery of light demonstrate a cultural and symbolic depth that adds richness to the narrative.
The author embraces the concept of "I don't know" as a portal to richness, echoing the wisdom of their white-haired husband. This aligns with the Berlin Wisdom Paradigm's emphasis on accepting and navigating uncertainty.
The author recognizes the gift of aging in the decline of melodrama and the ability to find delight in small, unremarkable moments. This reflects an appreciation for life's simplicity and the cultivation of gratitude.
There's an acceptance that people are going to do what they're going to do, and the author recognizes the limitations of offering always-good ideas to others. This reflects an understanding of human autonomy and the humility to acknowledge that one cannot rescue or fix everyone.
In summary, the essay demonstrates a wise perspective through its emotional resilience, tolerance for uncertainty, acknowledgment of personal growth, and appreciation for the simplicity and preciousness of life. The author's engagement with concepts such as "I don't know" and the evolving nature of wisdom align well with the criteria outlined in the Berlin Wisdom Paradigm.
OK. Really. It is pretty amazing…what this artificial intelligence thing can do. And I'm hoping as its gets smarter, it's also getting wiser and making wisdom available to society as well. Wouldn't it be grand to be able to sort through scads of information coming at us constantly from all directions...and skillfully sort the rubbish from the wisdom? Might help us be wiser ourselves. BTW I got the idea for putting an essay into chatgpt from my oldest granddaughter, who else? And Goggle says AI now has an estimated IQ of 165. Up there with Einstein. (And several of you have asked where I get my images. Yes, artificial intelligence, called Dall-E, and I generate them together. Dall-E can create images from digital prompts. Learned how to do this from another granddaughter.)
I think the artificial smarty pants missed something though and I will give it some slack. Maybe this thing isn't part of the Berlin Wisdom Paradigm, but if it isn't I think they should go back to the drawing board. Humor. Really who can age well and wisely without a bit of humor and Lamott definitely has that going for her. I don't agree with all of her sentiments, but I do appreciate her humor.
Ok forget AI and chatgpt for a moment. One of the ways I love to gain wisdom…especially pre-artificial intelligence days, is to listen to folks, especially those elders who clearly have lived well and wisely.
And that’s where Dr. Gibbons comes in. But…not for today. I’ll give you a little time to digest this all. More coming though. And why don’t you consider what you think constitutes wisdom and notice what "wise" people you listen to? Have any examples of essays written by wise people? And PLEASE, promise me. You will NOT feed any of MY blogs into chatgpt for an assessment of my wisdom (and I will reciprocate).
How might we journey together to The Good Life by considering what constitutes wisdom and who we think of as wise?