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University of Iowa News Release


Sept. 19, 2008

UI faculty members receive grants for 'Defining Wisdom'

Two University of Iowa faculty members are among 23 researchers worldwide who have received grants from the University of Chicago, with funding from the John Templeton Foundation, to study the nature and benefits of wisdom.

Jean K. Gordon, associate professor of communication sciences and disorders in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and Lauris Kaldjian, director of the Program in Bioethics and Humanities and associate professor of internal medicine in the UI Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine, are part of the "Defining Wisdom" project, a $2 million research program within the Arete Initiative at the University of Chicago designed to examine the nature and benefits of wisdom.

Gordon will receive a two-year, $99,700 grant to examine the relationship between language use and perceived wisdom. Gordon's study will analyze ways in which people rate wisdom through an assessment of fluency, grammatical complexity and vocabulary.

"I think wisdom is in the mind of the beholder," Gordon said. "It's not some abstract concept for which we can come up with one definition."

By examining the correlation between language and wisdom, Gordon hopes this study will provide evidence of how language changes with age and how those changes influence the way an individual is perceived. "If we can figure out what influences the perception of wisdom, then we might have a better understanding of how wisdom is passed on," Gordon said.

Kaldjian will receive a two-year, $93,186 grant to develop a framework of wisdom for the medical practitioner. His project will examine how medical professionals integrate contrasting approaches to medical ethical reasoning and make decisions based on social obligations as well as their own beliefs.

"In order to navigate through the ethical challenges of medical practice, clinicians need practical wisdom that can discern, integrate and adjudicate between competing moral claims that arise in the highly malleable process of clinical decision making," Kaldjian said. "Such wisdom involves assessing the value of different ends and determining the best means to achieve them."

Kaldjian's project will result in a seven-chapter manuscript intended for publication as a book.

Gordon and Kaldjian were among 40 researchers from around the world chosen as finalists from 631 submitted proposals. In August, the 40 finalists attended a "Defining Wisdom" symposium, and 23 were selected as grant recipients. Participants were chosen based on their ability to display a distinctive contribution to wisdom research and their potential to help establish a new and rigorous field of research on the topic.

The 23 grant recipients will reconvene annually over the next two years to discuss their research and findings. Recipients will also participate in quarterly conference calls to share ideas. Grant recipients are from a vast array of disciplines ranging from neuroscience to philosophy.

"The disciplinary diversity is very remarkable," Kaldjian said. "The initiative is bringing people from very different backgrounds together."

The challenge for researchers is how to define and measure a seemingly abstract concept such as wisdom.

"The big question is how do we define wisdom", Gordon said. She explained the initiative's goal is not to understand wisdom through individual projects, but to bring researchers together to discover numerous ways of understanding and measuring wisdom.

"By coming at the question from all of these perspectives, I think that's really a valuable way to attack a big question like this," Gordon said.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Health Science Relations, 5139 Westlawn, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-1178

MEDIA CONTACT: David Pedersen, 319-335-8032,; Writer: Stacie Carpenter