Mitt Romney: a Successful Executive, But Where is the Wisdom? – Part I

There is no doubt that Mitt Romney is a successful business executive. The million dollar question is whether he has the wisdom to lead a country?

Perhaps a brief discussion about wisdom is warranted here.

What exactly is wisdom? Humans have been trying to find an answer to this question for centuries. Now, thanks to the scientific advances, this knowledge is within our reach.

The human brain is divided into two parts, right brain and left brain. Right brain is in charge of tackling new problems, dealing with novel situations and finding solutions. Left brain is in charge of storing such solutions for future use. There are two distinct ways in which left brain stores such knowledge. First is semantic storage. For example, Washington D.C.  is the capital of the United States. This information is important but it cannot be used to solve any related problem such as what is the capital of some other country or what is the population of Washington D.C.

The other type of storage (and this is relevant to our discussion) is patterned storage (episodic and procedural are the correct words). What happens here is very interesting. As mentioned above, right brain tackles a new problem and devises a solution. Once such solution is devised, it is then stored in the left brain as a pattern. When one encounters a similar problem in future, the solution stored by left brain is used.

Such usage from the “pattern store” in the left brain has some interesting benefits. There is no time delay in coming up with the solution and a time tested solution that previously worked is used to solve a problem.

A simple example should make the concept of patterns very clear. A person is born without any kind of knowledge as to what does a chair look like. Somewhere in the childhood he/she starts encountering various kinds of chairs and at some stage this knowledge turns into a pattern and is stored in the left brain. The reason why you never confuse a chair with say a toilet seat is because both objects are stored as a pattern in your left brain. Needless to say, this patterned storage gets more complex when it comes to dealing with people, individual or group.

Wisdom is nothing but a large collection of such patterns. This is how a ‘wise’ person can seemingly effortlessly come up with solutions to problems. It is not because the ‘wise’ man is more intelligent but it is because the ‘wise’ man has experienced related problems in the past and is already aware of the solutions.

[To deviate from the subject: we use a lot of right brain in our early years. However, usage of left brain increases as we grow up and collect more and more patterns. In later years, the right brain essentially atrophies due to less and less use. Just as we go to the gym to develop muscles, it is possible to develop the right brain even in old age. Interested people can read this fantastic book: The Wisdom Paradox: How Your Mind Can Grow Stronger As Your Brain Grows Older.]

In the next part of this post we will discuss whether wisdom is needed to lead a country and whether Romney has the ‘wisdom’.