Gaiman on simulated wisdom

Tue 05 Jun 2012 08:51 AM

In a commencement address at University of the Arts in Philadelphia, Neil Gaiman offers the following advice:

Be wise, because the world needs more wisdom. And if you can not be wise, pretend to be someone who is wise and then just behave like they would.

I first thought that this would be impossible, because accurately simulated wisdom would just be wisdom. Yet perhaps genuinely being wise requires not only right action but also understanding, and so one might do what a wise person would do but without the wise person's understanding of entirely why. So the advice is possible.

Whether it is good advice depends on whether it is any easier to simulate wisdom than to actually be wise. Imagine predicting what a wise person will do, holding fixed the assumption that they are wise. In some vexed cases or thought experiments, the prediction might require actually being wise yourself. But you might be able to predict fairly well for quotidian decisions without actually having wisdom. In such cases, Gaiman's advice seems sound.

There is a further question of moral philosophy whether following this advice would be right and proper. If goodness and wisdom are related, do they require the right interior understanding or just the right action? I don't know, but I am inclined to think that right action with wrong thinking is prima facie better than wrong action with wrong thinking.