Indian American Neuropsychiatrist Dilip Jeste’s New Book Seeks to Prove That Wisdom is Genetically Inherited Trait
- Calling the traditional view of wisdom — intangible, subjective, culturally-specific entity — an unscientific construct, Jeste’s body of work traces it to a part of the human brain.
As a former Senior Associate Dean for Healthy Aging and Senior Care, and Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry and Neurosciences at the University of California San Diego, Dilip Jeste’s life-long research focused on the intersection of neuroscience and psychiatry, exploring the ways in which brain structure and function influence mental health and well-being.
In his latest book, “Wiser: The Scientific Roots of Wisdom, Compassion, and What Makes Us Good,” the Maharashtra-born neuropsychiatrist tries to unravel the sources of wisdom in the human brain. He arrives at the thesis that wisdom is a trait that can be genetically inherited, even though the environment also plays a major role.
While age and experience contribute to what we call wisdom, he says the prefrontal cortex and amygdala are key sources of it. “The prefrontal cortex, hands-down, is the most important part of the neurobiology of wisdom,” Jeste was quoted in the Washington Post. “Located behind the forehead, the prefrontal cortex is the newest part of the brain evolutionarily.”
“It is what makes us human,” he says.
Not excluding the impact of environmental influences, “wisdom might even be a personality trait that could be roughly 35 to 50 percent genetically inherited, he contends.
This poses the fundamental question: What is wisdom?
In a paper published by the National Library of Medicine, Jeste says, “The concept of wisdom, long considered the ‘pinnacle of insight into the human condition’ has been that of an intangible, subjective, culturally-specific entity — an unscientific construct, perhaps best reserved for abstract religious and philosophical discussions.
His research has been all about proving the “neurobiological basis of wisdom — and whether there is evolutionary value for wisdom,” Katherine Kam writes in the Washington Post.
According to Jeste, a wise person is compassionate, calm, open-minded and decisive who learned from experiences.
According to Jesse, wisdom consists of several traits, including
- Prosocial behavior (empathy, compassion and altruism)
- Emotional stability
- Balancing decisiveness with acceptance of uncertainty
- Pragmatic knowledge of life
- Spirituality or belief in something larger than oneself
An introduction to Jeste’s work, says, “For over two decades, Dr. Dilip Jeste has led the search for the biological and cognitive roots of wisdom … What exactly does it mean to be ‘wise?’ And is it possible to grow and even accelerate its unfolding? What’s emerged from his work is that wisdom is a very real and deeply multilayered set of traits. Across many cultures and centuries, he’s found that wise people are compassionate and empathetic, aware of their gifts and blind spots, open-minded, resolute and calm amid uncertainty, altruistic decision-makers who learn from their experiences, able to see from many perspectives and ‘altitudes’ and often blessed with a sense of adventure and humor.”
Born in India in 1949, Jeste completed his medical degree in Mumbai before pursuing further training in psychiatry at the University of British Columbia and the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). He joined the faculty at UCLA in 1986 and has remained there ever since, holding a number of leadership positions within the university’s Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences.
According to available literature, Jeste’s research has spanned a broad range of topics within the field of neuropsychiatry. He has conducted studies on the relationship between aging and mental health, examining the ways in which cognitive function and emotional regulation change over the lifespan. He has also investigated the effects of social support on mental well-being, looking at how social relationships can act as a protective factor against psychiatric disorders.
One of Jeste’s major areas of focus has been on schizophrenia, a severe mental disorder characterized by hallucinations, delusions, and disordered thinking. He has worked to identify the biological mechanisms underlying the disorder and has developed new treatments that target these mechanisms.
In addition to his research, Jeste has been an influential figure within the field of psychiatry more broadly. He has served as the President of the American Psychiatric Association, the first Asian-American, to preside over this 175-year-old institution.
According to his Wikipedia entry: He has published 14 books, more than 750 articles in peer-reviewed journals, and over 160 book chapters, and he was listed in “The Best Doctors in America”, and also in the Institute for Scientific Information list of the “world’s most cited authors”, comprising less than 0.5% percent of all publishing researchers of the previous two decades.
He is married to Sonali Jeste, a child psychiatrist.