Who is wiser: Mister Spock or Master Yoda?
That sounds like a game Dr. Sheldon Cooper would think up on “The Big Bang Theory” (with the obvious (to him) conclusion that he himself would be ranked higher than both) but the question is actually part of a scientific study to determine the personality characteristics of the wisest of the wise. Which of these beloved sci-fi characters did the researchers deem to be the wisest? What would the winner think of science spending money on such a study?
"With our new study, we wanted to test how the presence and balance of multiple emotions at the same time influence one's ability for wise reasoning."
Study co-authors Igor Grossmann, professor of psychology at the University of Waterloo, Harrison Oaks, a PhD candidate in psychology at the school, and Henri C. Santos, a recent graduate, chose to study the relationship between wisdom and emotion – specifically, the traditional theory that controlling intense emotions leads to wiser reasoning versus the new theory that emotions provide insights into life experiences which lead to wiser reasoning. Their results were published this week in the Journal of Experimental Psychology. And the winner is …
Not so fast. The bookies are still counting the bets.
It turns out this was not a frivolous celebrity study but a serious attempt to help science through a recent rough patch where it’s meeting resistance – if not downright hostilities – at the highest levels of politics, business and public opinion. Dr. Grossmann found himself constantly being asked by fellow scientists if part of the problem might be that the seeming lack of emotions in the field was causing people to question whether their conclusions came from truly wise reasoning. Initially, Grossmann scoffed at the questions. However, he agreed to lead what eventually became a four-year study.
“We present a series of observational, diary, and experimental studies (N = 3,678 participants) addressing these possibilities, examining how wisdom-related characteristics of reasoning—epistemic humility, recognition of a world in flux, self-transcendence, recognition of diverse perspectives on an issue, and search for integration of diverse perspectives/compromise—relate to emotional intensity and to emodiversity (i.e., emotional richness and evenness) in a given situation.”
With well over 3,000 wise participants, this was indeed a serious study. In one test, participants were asked to discuss a traumatic or life-changing event. In another, they reflected on major geopolitical conflicts and revealed what emotions they caused and how intense these feelings were. The team studied the language the participants used, looking for signs of philosophical-over-scientific reasoning, such as intellectual humility and recognition of changes. They agreed that the tests were subjective, which could explain why they made the test pool so large. And the conclusions?
“It seems that wise reasoning does not align with uniform emotional down-regulation, as portrayed by Dr. Spock. Rather, wise reasoning accompanies one's ability to recognize and balance a wide range of emotions, as portrayed by Yoda."
Sorry, Mister Spock. Master Yoda is the true wise one, at least according to this study. What would Dr. Sheldon Cooper think?
“Scissors cuts paper. Paper covers rock. Rock crushes lizard. Rock is levitated by Yoda. Yoda shows it to Spock. Spock covers it with paper. Paper disproves Spock’s logic. Spock logically concedes to Yoda and sheds a tear. Crying inspires new movie replacing Zachary Quinto with Tom Hanks. Yoda advises producers that this is not a wise move.”