In order to make progress towards a better world we need to learn how to do it. And for that we need institutions of learning rationally designed and devoted to helping us solve our global problems, make progress towards a better world. It is just this that we lack at present. Our universities pursue knowledge. They are neither designed nor devoted to helping humanity learn how to tackle global problems - problems of living - in more intelligent, humane and effective ways. That, this book argues, is the key disaster of our times, the crisis behind all the others: our failure to have developed our institutions of learning so that they are rationally organized to help us solve our problems of living - above all, our global problems. Having universities devoted almost exclusively to the pursuit of knowledge is a recipe for disaster. Scientific knowledge and technological know-how have unquestionably brought great benefits to humanity. But they have also made possible - even caused - our current global crises, above all the impending crisis of global warming. In this lucid and provocative book, Nicholas Maxwell argues convincingly that we need urgently to bring about a revolution in universities round the world so that their basic aim becomes wisdom, and not just knowledge.
Much of my working life has been devoted to trying to get across the point that we urgently need to bring about a revolution in the aims and methods of academic inquiry, so that the basic aim becomes to promote wisdom rather than just acquire knowledge. To begin with, I wanted to understand the nature of the universe. When still a boy I struggled with the baffling mysteries of theoretical physics - and failed the 11-plus exam twice! (This is an exam one had to pass in the UK when I was young in order to continue with one's education, unless one's parents could pay school fees. Fortunately, mine could.) Then, with adolescence, I began to feel it was much more important to understand the hearts and souls of people, the way to do that being via the novel. I plunged into the worlds of Dostoevsky, Kafka, Stendhal, Chekhov, D. H. Lawrence, Virginia Woolf and Flaubert. My real education began. I would become a novelist and dare to reveal dark secrets of the human heart no one before had uttered. But I never learnt how to fabricate in order to tell the truth. So, after failures, mystical experiences, and other travails, I became a philosopher. In all my work I have struggled with two basic problems: (1) How can human life exist - conscious, free, meaningful and of value - if the world really is more or less as modern physical science tells us it is? (2) What ought to be the overall aims and methods of science, and of academic inquiry more generally, granted that the basic task is to help humanity achieve what is of value in life? One might sum it up in one problem: How can life of value exist and best flourish in the real world?
I have published six books on this theme: What's Wrong With Science? (Bran's Head Books, 1976; 2nd edition, Pentire Press, 2009), From Knowledge to Wisdom (Blackwell, 1984; 2nd edition, Pentire Press, 2007), The Comprehensibility of the Universe (Oxford University Press, 1998; paperback 2003), The Human World in the Physical Universe: Consciousness, Free Will and Evolution (Rowman and Littlefield, 2001); Is Science Neurotic? (Imperial College Press, December 2004); and Cutting God in Half - And Putting the Pieces Together Again: A New Approach to Philosophy (Pentire Press, 2010). I have also contributed to a number of other books, and have published numerous papers in science and philosophy journals on problems that range from consciousness to quantum theory. For nearly thirty years I taught philosophy of science at University College London, where I am now Emeritus Reader in Philosophy of Science. In 2009 a book was published devoted to my work, edited by Leemon McHenry, called Science and the Pursuit of Wisdom: Studies in the Philosophy of Nicholas Maxwell (Ontos Verlag, Frankfurt). A few years ago I founded an organization called Friends of Wisdom, which promotes the idea that we need to bring about a revolution in our universities, so they come to help humanity learn how to create as good, as wise, a world as possible. Some universities are beginning to put my ideas into practice - for example, my own university, University College London. My website URL, where more information about my life and work may be found, is: www.nick-maxwell.demon.co.uk.