Most training of this sort aims at making sure that business continues as usual. However, mixing forms of training from one branch of learning with another is also the basis for novelty, for extending experience, endurance, perception. Historians of science have studied how new laboratory apparatus produces new objects and new relations, manifesting latencies and virtualities, stabilizing phenomena. Likewise, new self-disciplines can tap into, redirect, and transform what the philosopher William James called “the energies of men. Thus, “wisdom techniques” calls to mind techniques of transformation and discovery not only in the external world but also in the internal world. This therefore means openness to older, often forgotten forms of knowledge, which fall into categories that may seem a long way from “global warming” and “environmental change”: these include self-help, spiritual practice, and religion.
It is reasonable at this point to wonder what exactly a history and speculative exploration of bodily and mental practices have to do with the Anthropocene? Why this line of thinking, when what we need are concrete technical innovations ‒ or new forms of aesthetic representation ‒ or political strategies to allow experts, citizens, and even polluted oceans, disappearing species, and shrinking ice caps, to be heard above the usual clamor over national security and monetary profits?
Of course, we do need to work on technical and scientific, artistic, and political forms to address the environmental breakdown caused by runaway consumption. Nonetheless, the Anthropocene names a situation so multifaceted, fast-changing, and unpredictable that the usual forms of problem-solving and expert advice are insufficient. The roots of the situation lie beyond the domains of the natural sciences: they can be found at the level of human political and economic organization, but even more fundamentally, in the habits of thought, feeling, and action, in imaginations, cravings, commitments, attitudes, relationships with nature, views of the good life, and of what’s possible.
There cannot be a single solution for a “super wicked problem” like this. Instead, the question is how each of us, caught in the groove of our own training and experience, can deviate from our usual track sufficiently in order to hear and build upon the message coming from another track, or perhaps forge a new one.
Additionally, we need new ways of sensing the relationships we already hold, yet which remain invisible or outside our consciousness. These are the relationships, for example, between staying in the dark or switching on a light, driving or taking public transportation, relationships between our desire for comfort for ourselves and our families and friends, and the production of greenhouse gases and the filling up of the landfills.
But awareness of these relationships often takes place at a level prior to representations ‒ whether arguments, facts, or even striking artistic realizations: instead, now, it’s at a level of sensing invisible connections, learning to register their impact without words, even without symbols. Perhaps they even require new senses and modes of attunement.
The question is how to sink new perceptions and attunements into the body and the mind and make them hold. An essential point about disciplines and anthropotechniques is that they are not a one-time thing, not a single event: they are long-term, even a life-long training, with heavy demands on personal time and patience. They are about testing—as in Benedict Spinoza’s phrase—what a body can do What happens if we repeat this phrase, if we maintain this pose, if we pay attention to our breathing, and quiet our thoughts; what if we visualize this form for just a little longer? What experience awaits us, what new way of being? What new flexibility or sensitivity becomes possible after repeating these courses of training, after making them daily habits?
Such techniques pass outside or beyond the communication of facts ‒ possibly even beyond practical skill, or even prudence and phronesis. These techniques are about knowing with expanded and deepened senses—some of which may be beyond the verifiably biophysical. They may involve knowing not just what to do and say, but how to refrain from action, when and how to remain silent, how to weigh different ways of knowing, and adapt them to shifting demands. They may even help develop something like the “wisdom” in this contribution’s title. This may seem like a new way of talking about science, technology, art, and religion but, actually, it is also among the oldest.