Wondering how, why and at…

  • (noun) a feeling of surprise mingled with admiration, caused by something beautiful, unexpected, unfamiliar, or inexplicable
  • (verb) feel admiration and amazement; marvel

In the past, I have written about wonder in connection with saving our planet – a big ask, I know! But how can we inspire our generation of technological children to appreciate the wonder of our marvellous world?

Rachel Carson wrote: “The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.” Yes. I agree! I read somewhere recently that if we don’t inspire our current generation of children to love and wonder about the world, then our planet will suffer in the future as they will not care enough about it to do anything. In a way, we are so disconnected from what the Earth gives us, that we really don’t care.

I know that curricula around the world have sections on environmental awareness etc but why then is there so much litter, why do people continue to kill rhinos and chop down forests? Somehow, we need to encourage our children to get actively involved in the world, so that they feel a real part of it. I have an 18-year-old son: I often wonder if I’ve managed to instil a love of the planet into him.

I think about this often. I really do. The other day I googled ‘wonder’ (what would we do without Google?), looking to see what others think about it and stumbled upon a book by Philip Fisher called “Wonder, the Rainbow, and the Aesthetics of Rare Experiences“. David Grayson of The San Francisco Bay Guardian, says this about the book in his review:

[It] confronts one of our most fundamental cliches about the modern era: that science, by explaining the mechanics of the physical world, has demystified our world. We now know how tornadoes and rainbows work, how suns and planets are made, and how a caterpillar becomes a butterfly. Has this knowledge brought a loss of innocence? …

Grayson highlights Fisher’s view that wonder and science walk hand in hand. I’m amazed that I have come across across a link between my own musings about technology/science and wonder. But now I have another question: How do we continue to wonder at something when we know everything there is to know about it when we’ve lost the innocence?

I was even more amazed when earlier this week I read an academic paper which was based on Fisher’s book connecting wonder and aesthetics specifically to mathematics. One of the authors of the paper, Nathalie Sinclair helps to answer my question. Using Fisher’s example of a rainbow, she says that our wonder about why and how ceases once we find an answer and our curiosity is satisfied. Yet, we can still continue to wonder at something, even when we know how it works.

This quote which was shared in the article, struck me because it linked surprise and the unexpectedness of a moment of wonder with a simultaneous feeling of pleasure.

Fisher aha quote

I think it might be time for me to read this book myself, as I’d like to think about Fisher’s ideas from a personal perspective and not an academic one. I have purchased it online and it is winging its way to me as I write! There is also a lot more in the academic paper that I want to explore too about mathematics, but that can wait for another time.


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