Brain Pickings

Philosophical Timecapsule of Today: Wisdom

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Intelligent insight, the fountain of youth, or what’s love got to do with it.

A couple of months ago, we raved about photographer Andrew Zuckerman‘s extraordinary series, Bird. Turns out, Zuckerman had a much more ambitious project in his back pocket.

Driven by the insight that the greatest heritage of a generation is the wisdom gained from life’s experience, Zuckerman rolled up his sleeves and went wisdom-hunting among 50 of our time’s greatest thinkers and doers — writers, artists, philosophers, politicians, designers, activists, musicians, religious and business leaders — all over 65 years of age. (Though Zuckerman himself is just over 30.)

You don’t stop doing things because you get old. You get old because you stop doing things.” ~ Rosamunde Pilcher, writer

He posed 7 questions, recording his subjects’ candid responses in a way that unearths a landslide of intelligence, inspiration and invaluable insight.

The result was a brilliant book-and-film, Wisdom: The Greatest Gift One Generation Can Give to Another. (Zuckerman subsequently divided the great tome into four smaller, more digestible sub-volumes, each with its own thematic DVD: Wisdom: Life, Wisdom: Love, Wisdom: Peace, and Wisdom: Ideas.)

Against the plain white backdrop and in the signature crispness of Zuckerman’s shot, the subjects are stripped down to their core essence, decontextualized and thus democratized in a way that truly captures a cross-cultural cross-section of our era, with all its burdens and triumphs.

From Nelson Mandela to Jane Goodall to Mary Quant, the list of wisdom-dispensers reads like an all-star pickup game between TED and the Nobel Prize, a treasure trove of our greatest heritage and our most precious human capital.

It is what we make out of what we have, not what we are given, that separates one person from another. Peace is the greatest weapon for development that any people can have.” ~ Nelson Mandela

Take your profession seriously; don’t take yourself seriously. Don’t take yourself seriously in the process, because you really only matter to a certain degree in the whole circus out here. If a person is confident enough in the way they feel, whether it’s an art form or whether it’s just in life, it comes off — you don’t have anything to prove; you can just be what you are.” ~ Clint Eastwood, filmmaker

The project was also reincarnated as a breathtaking and impactful exhibition in Sydney’s State Library of NSW Galleries.

Love something. I think we’ve got to learn to love something deeply. I think it’s love. It sounds sentimental as hell, but I really think it is.” ~ Andrew Wyeth, artist

Succinct and brilliantly curated, Wisdom is a living corpus callosum bridging the creative and intellectual hemispheres of culture’s collective brain, as close as we can get to an ideological and philosophical timecapsule of our era.

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