Evolutionary psychology Intelligent Design

Darwinizing the experience of wonder

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In “How Wonder Works,” in Aeon Magazine, City University philosopher Jesse Prinz offers an instructive contrast between the view of political philosopher Adam Smith and that of early scientist Francis Bacon on the value of wonder:

My favourite definition of wonder comes from the 18th-century Scottish moral philosopher Adam Smith, better known for first articulating the tenets of capitalism. He wrote that wonder arises ‘when something quite new and singular is presented… [and] memory cannot, from all its stores, cast up any image that nearly resembles this strange appearance’. Smith associated this quality of experience with a distinctive bodily feeling — ‘that staring, and sometimes that rolling of the eyes, that suspension of the breath, and that swelling of the heart’.

Smith’s analysis appears in his History of Astronomy (1795). In that underappreciated work, he proposed that wonder is crucial for science. Astronomers, for instance, are moved by it to investigate the night sky. He might have picked up this idea from the French philosopher René Descartes, who in his Discourse on the Method (1637) described wonder as the emotion that motivates scientists to investigate rainbows and other strange phenomena. In a similar spirit, Socrates said that philosophy begins in wonder: that wonder is what leads us to try to understand our world. In our own time, Richard Dawkins has portrayed wonder as a wellspring from which scientific inquiry begins. Animals simply act, seeking satiation, safety and sex. Humans reflect, seeking comprehension.

For a less flattering view, we turn to the 17th-century English philosopher Francis Bacon, the father of the scientific method. He called wonder ‘broken knowledge’ — a mystified incomprehension that science alone could cure. But this mischaracterises science and wonder alike. Scientists are spurred on by wonder, and they also produce wondrous theories. The paradoxes of quantum theory, the efficiency of the genome: these are spectacular. Knowledge does not abolish wonder; indeed, scientific discoveries are often more wondrous than the mysteries they unravel. Without science, we are stuck with the drab world of appearances. With it, we discover endless depths, more astounding that we could have imagined.

Unfortunately, the essay goes downhill from there, as Prinz tries his hand at Darwinizing wonder, according to how early man supposedly lived. Read it and sleep.

Fictional Darwinian sociology is not the same as knowing much about how early man lived, let alone charting the evolution of wonder.

Note: The first commenter makes a similar point.

2 Replies to “Darwinizing the experience of wonder

  1. 1
    bornagain77 says:

    A few ‘random’ thoughts on beauty and wonder:

    Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for these desires exists. A baby feels hunger; well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim; well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire; well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.
    C.S. Lewis (Mere Christianity, Bk. III, chap. 10, “Hope”)

    Mt. Everest in time-lapse – video
    https://vimeo.com/67992157

    Brooke Fraser- “C S Lewis Song”
    http://www.godtube.com/watch/?v=DL6LPLNX

    ENV has a article detailing the futile attempt of two materialists who tried to reduce the sense of ‘beauty’ to mere brain function.,,

    Beauty Evades the Clutches of Materialism – March 27, 2013
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....70321.html

    The Artists – The Artists is a short film about two rival painters who fail to see the bigger picture.
    http://vimeo.com/33670490

    Time Lapse: Island in the Sky (La Palma) – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/.....n_the_sky/

    Lightning – Inspirational Poem

    In a windswept field the clouds build
    The sky grows dark, the air smells of coming rain
    As a nervous world stews in fearful anticipation
    Fearful anticipation for the promised Wonders,
    Of the new promised Wonders from the Ancient Ones hand
    Yes, the mighty foretold Wonders
    Soon to be seen across the land
    Could this be THE prophesied cleansing rain?
    Will He finally wash away all our tears and pain?
    Lightning cracks the sky open,,,
    For a brief instance the glorious white light of His kingdom is revealed,,,
    The tear in the sky threatens to rip the sky asunder
    The world roars applause with a loud sustained thunder
    An applause for the glorious light we have glimpsed
    From the world of light promised past death’s weakened fence
    Yes, of the glory promised to our every fiber and sense
    Another longer bolt of lightning teases us yet again
    And again the world with thunder shouts an encouraging reply
    Yes, Encouraging the glory of paradise to swallow this world whole
    Yet, it is followed by a long low grumble for being teased yet again
    For being teased yet again with the coming of a glorious paradise
    A long low grumble yearning jealously for the promise that is so soon near
    But alas, the sky closes behind the lightning bolt’s rip
    All the world is still as it was
    The clouds open up, The rain pours down
    But it is not really raining, the clouds are really crying
    Crying for the world must face yet another day
    Face yet another day of being one step short of paradise.

    Timescapes – video – from the 2010 astronomy photographer of the year
    http://www.timescapes.org/trailer.asp

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