Not merely a sense of wonderment (that is awe) but truly wondering about the many mysteries that we do not yet understand. The world is full of such mysteries. When we wonder, we take an intellectual journey. That can lead to other journeys.
- It is enough for me to contemplate the mystery of conscious life perpetuating itself through all eternity, to reflect upon the marvelous structure of the universe which we can dimly perceive, and to try humbly to comprehend even an infinitesimal part of the intelligence manifested in nature. [Albert Einstein, from Henry Goddard Leach, Living Philosophies (Simon and Schuster, 1931).]
- At a certain point in life, most of us quit puzzling over everyday phenomena. We might savor the beauty of a blie sky, but we longer bother to wonder why it is that color. Leonardo did. So did Einstein, who wrote to another friend, ‘You and I never cease to stand like curious children before the great mystery into which we were born. [Walter Isaacson, Leonardo da Vinci, (Simon & Schuster, 2017), p. 520.]
- Men love to wonder, and that is the seed of our science. [Ralph Waldo Emerson, Society and Solitude, p. 158.]
- . . . wisdom begins in wonder. [Socrates]
- . . . it is owing to their wonder that men both now begin and at first began to philosophize. [Aristotle, Metaphysics, Book I, Part 2.]
- I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious. [Albert Einstein]
As with awe, people who seek to know the truth, and not merely have a sense or feeling of knowing, take a particular approach to wonder: to wonder is to ask and inquire, not necessarily to answer. The slogan of a well-known tabloid is “enquiring minds want to know” but enquiring minds that truly want to know are not likely to read that tabloid. Through awe and wonder, we seek to know but we do not presume to know. Knowing comes after sufficient inquiry has been conducted, and enough information has been uncovered to justify a claim to know. To be productive, a sense of wonderment must be accompanied by rigorous and objective application of reason and empiricism. Our departure here is that for us, wonder is more an operation of the cerebral cortex – a process of thinking – than an emotion alone. The emotions motivate us, as they always do, but we propose to refine the idea of wonder, in keeping with and as an adjunct to the advancement of knowledge.
An illustration of this distinction is found in the scholarly literature on environmental education, which suggests that a mere sense of wonderment can “reproduce anthropocentric attitudes toward the natural world”. By contrast, we advocate a contemplative wonder. Contemplative wonder “sparks our interest in the world as something worth attending to for its own sake . . .”. This kind of wonder remains attached to its generative sense of awe but is not dominated by it. Many writers do not make this distinction.
Among other things, wonder activates the imagination. In our relationships, it invites us to look beyond accepted rules and imagine the world as it might be. “Wonder is an essential characteristic of man, who is a creature of the universe that brought him forth and that in its many aspects evokes his character.” “Deep Wonder” has important implications for education. In our relationship to the world, wonder is a relative of curiosity. Naturally, it leads us to explore, so that we may come to know.
Books on the subject of wonder:
- Richard Dawkins, An Appetite for Wonder: (Ecco, 2013).
- Robert C. Fuller, Wonder: From Emotion to Spirituality (University of North Carolina Press, 2006).
- Rachel Carson, The Sense of Wonder (Harper (reprint), 1998).
Astronomy is a classical science. It is also a study in wonderment. We can look at it historically.
- James Evans, The History and Practice of Ancient Astronomy (Oxford University Press, 1998).
- Michael Hoskin, ed., The Cambridge Concise History of Astronomy (Cambridge University Press, 1999).
- Jacqueline Mitton, Cambridge Illustrated Dictionary of Astronomy (Cambridge University Press, 2008).
- John L. Heilbron, ed., The Oxford Guide to the History of Physics and Astronomy (Oxford University Press, 2005).
- John North, Cosmos: An Illustrated History of Astronomy and Cosmology (University of Chicago Press, 2008).
- Malcolm S. Longair, The Cosmic Century: A History of Astrophysics and Cosmology (Cambridge University Press, 2006).
- Leila Belkora, Minding the Heavens: The Story of Our Discovery of the Milky Way (Taylor & Francis, 2002).
- René Taton and Curtis Wilson, The General History of Astronomy, volume 2A: Planetary Astronomy from the Renaissance to the Rise of Astrphysics (Cambridge University Press, 2003).
- René Taton and Curtis Wilson, The General History of Astronomy, volume 2B: Planetary Astronomy (Cambridge University Press, 1995).
Or we can gaze at modern astronomy in awe and wonder.
- Andrew J. Norton, ed., Observing the Universe: A Guide to Observational Astronomy and Planetary Science (Cambridge University Press, 2004).
- John Audouze and John Israel, The Cambridge Atlas of Astronomy (Cambridge University Press, 1994).
- Houjon Mo, Frank van der Bosch and Simon White, Galaxy Formation and Evolution (Cambridge University Press, 2010).
- Malcolm S. Longair, Galaxy Formation (Springer, 2008).
- Michael Zeilik, Astronomy: The Evolving Universe (Cambridge University Press, 2002).
- I.S. Glass, Handbook of Infrared Astronomy (Cambridge University Press, 1999).
- Steve B. Howell, Handbook of CCD Astronomy (Cambridge University Press, 2006).
- D. Scott Birney, Guillermo Gonzalez and David Oesper, Observational Astronomy (Cambridge University Press, 2006).
We can even look at images from the Hubble telescope.
- Edward Weiler, Hubble: A Journey through Space and Time (Abrams, 2010).
- Ken Croswell, Magnificent Universe (Simon & Schuster, 1999).
- Lars Lindberg Christensen and Bob Fosbury, Hubble: 15 Years of Discovery (Springer, 2006).
- Robin Kerrod and Carole Scott, Hubble: The Mirror on the Universe (Firefly Books, 2007).
- And we don't even need a book.
We can study our sense of wonder:
- Jim Holt, Why Does the World Exist?: An Existential Detective Story (W.W. Norton & Company, 2012): posing the ultimate existential question, “the darkest in all philosophy”.
- Rachel Carson, The Sense of Wonder (1965).
- Rick van Noy, A Natural Sense of Wonder: Connecting Kids with Nature through the Seasons (University of Georgia Press, 2008).
- William C. Ritz, A Head Start on Science: Encouraging a Sense of Wonder (National Science Teachers Association, 2007).
- Barbara M. Benedict, Curiosity: A Cultural History of Early Modern Inquiry (University of Chicago Press, 2001).
- Lorraine Daston and Katharine Park, Wonders and the Order of Nature, 1150-1750 (Zone Books, 1998).
- Lawrence Weschler, Mr. Wilson's Cabinet of Wonder: Pronged Ants, Horned Humans, Mice on Toast and Other Marvels of Jurassic Technology (Pantheon, 1995).
- Mary Baine Campbell, Wonder & Science: Imagining Worlds in Early Modern Europe (Cornell University Press, 1999).
Cosmology is the study of the universe.
- Brian Greene, The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos (Knopf, 2010).
- Brian Greene, The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory (W. W. Norton, 2003).
- Brian Greene, Until the End of Time: Mind, Matter, and Our Search for Meaning in an Evolving Universe (Knopf, 2020): “. . . a meditation on how we go on doing what we do, why and how it will end badly, and why it matters anyway.”
And we can go steps and steps further, wondering how life began and whether it exists anywhere but on Earth.
Documentary and Educational Films
- “Journey Through the Universe”
- “Journey to the Edge of the Universe”
- “Universe in Motion”
- “Constellations in the Universe”
- “The Milky Way Galaxy Planets”
- “Kepler 186-F”
- “Finding Life Beyond Earth and Solar System”
- “Space Exploration: The Age of Hubble”
- “Solar Superstorms”
- “Pluto the Planet”
- “Pluto Revealed!”
- “A Traveler’s Guide to the Planets: Jupiter”
- “A Traveler’s Guide to the Planets: Saturn”
- “A Traveler’s Guide to the Planets: Venus and Mercury”
- “A Traveler’s Guide to the Planets: Mars”
- “A Traveler’s Guide to the Planets: Neptune and Uranus”
- “A Traveler’s Guide to the Planets: Pluto and Beyond”
- “Weirdest Planets”
- “Journey to the End of the Universe”
- “Could the Universe Be Infinite?”
- “Searching for the Origin of Life across the Universe”
- “Seeing the Beginning of Time in 4K”
- “Beginning of the Universe – What Caused the Big Bang”
- “The Greatest Secrets of the Universe”
- “Big Bang, Inflation, Multiverse”
- “Quantum Physics NOVA”
- “So Much Universe, So Little Time”
- “Quantum Riddle / Quantum Engagement”
- “Strangest Things in the Universe”
- “From Earth to the Universe”
- “Amazing Universe”
- “The Universe Is Endless”
- “The Darkest Secrets of the Universe”
- “What Is Space and Time and How It Works”
- “Mission Juno”
- “The Universe in a Nutshell”
- “The Universe and Beyond”
- Cosmos, Carl’s Sagan’s masterful epic, lovingly told by a man in love with the universe, is an anthem-in-film for a Humanist approach to the great questions.
- Neil de Grasse Tyson has updated his mentor’s Cosmos series: Possible Worlds.
- “Where Did We Come From?”
- “A mind-expanding tour of the cosmos”
- “Tyson on the cosmos”
- Wonders of the Universe
- Anders Brekhus Nilsen, Big Questions: Or, Asomatognosis, Whose Hand Is It Anyway? (Drawn & Quarterly, 2011) a comic-strip book with a “bird’s-eye-view sense of time and motion.”
- Andrew Miller, Now We Shall Be Entirely Free: A Novel (Sceptre, 2019): “ . . . things are never quite what you expect, and history is altogether stranger than most accounts suggest. What makes Miller’s own account so riveting is its alertness to wonder and unpredictability.”
- Jackson Pollock, Night Mist (1944-45)
- Giorgio de Chirico, The Enigma of the Oracle (1910)
- Edward Atkinson Hornel, Wonderment (1906)
- Georges Seurat, Invitations to a Sideshow (La Parade de Cirque) (1887-89)
- Rembrandt van Rijn, Dr. Nicholas Tulp's Demonstration of the Anatomy of the Arm (1632)
- Donna Williams, Wonderment
Film and Stage
- The Tree of Life: I place this film under “Wonder” to reflect the stage of development it seems to represent; Ebert writes that it reflects a “fierce evocation of human feeling”
Music: Composers, artists, and major works
Western "classical" works:
- Gustav Holst, The Planets, Op. 32 (1916) (approx. 47-52’): Holst acknowledged, “I only study things that suggest music to me. That's why I worried at Sanskrit. Then recently the character of each planet suggested lots to me, and I have been studying astrology fairly closely” He also wrote, “These pieces were suggested by the astrological significance of the planets . . .” (One can wonder without understanding.) Top recorded performances are conducted by Holst in 1923; Boult in 1945; Karajan in 1980; Dutoit in 1986; Andrew Davis in 1994; and Jurowski in 2010.
- Geirr Tveitt, Piano Concerto No. 4 (“Aurora Borealis”, or “Northern Lights”) (1947) (approx. 30’), “a tone poem in three movements for piano and orchestra, is a sort of northern take on Nights in the Gardens of Spain. There’s . . . mystery, . . . luminous instrumental textures, . . . gorgeously evocative keyboard writing and close integration of the soloist within the larger ensemble.” “String clusters, trilling woodwind and glittering, hard-edged, iridescent piano textures deliberately seek to parallel and evoke the mysterious play of lights in the night sky, and the work ends in a slow finale of ecstatic, frosty beauty.” Performances are by Gimse and Austbø.
- Béla Bartók, The Miraculous Mandarin (A csodálatos mandarin), Op. 19, Sz. 73, BB 82 (1926) (approx. 31’), “is the capturing, in music, of a primeval human psychological process on the one hand and the creation of a mythology on the other.” Top recorded performances are conducted by Boulez in 1995; Iván Fischer in 1996; Chailly in 2001; and Salonen in 2011.
- In his "Robert Browning Overture" (1911, rev. 1914) (approx. 25’), Charles Ives tried to capture Browning’s “surge into the baffling unknown”. He was never satisfied that he had succeeded. Of Browning, Ives wrote: “His mind had many road, not always easy to follow--the ever-flowing, changing, growing ways of imagination over the great unchanging truths of life & not death!” Top recorded performances are conducted by Stokowski in 1967; Morton Gould in 1967; Swierczewski in 1991; and Metzmacher in 1995.
- Harrison Birtwistle, Entr'Actes & Sappho Fragments (1964) (approx. 26-27’): “His first idea was to write a set of five instrumental entr'actes with a coda, but that slowly metamorphosed into a curious diptych, in which the instrumental sequence was followed by a series of settings of the Greek poetess Sappho, and those soprano numbers were alternated with reworkings of the original entr'actes.” Birtwistle expanded on the idea over time, as he continued to think about it.
- Antonio Bibalo, Sinfonia Notturna (1968) (approx. 25’)
- Judith Lang Zaimont, String Quartet No. 2, "The Figure" (2007) (approx. 17’): “The two movement titles are drawn from the visual realm, where ‘figure’ also has meaning and where effects of light upon form are critical to rendering. In Shadow is an essay loosely in three parts . . .”
- Zaimont, Jupiter's Moons (2000) (approx. 26’), “. . . is a group of six short pieces, composed in 2000. Each of the pieces draws upon both mythological and geophysical associations from which to anchor its character . . .”
- Rued Langaard, Symphony No. 13, “Undertro” (Belief in Wonders), BVN 319 (1946-1947) (approx. 28’)
- Jordan Dykstra, “Ghosting No. 3” (2017) (approx. 7’)
- Elisabeth Lutyens, “The Great Seas” (1979) (approx. 17’)
- Neiil Thornock, “Cosmology” (2017) (approx. 64’)
- Toivo Tulev, “A Child Said, What Is the Grass” (2015) (approx. 15’), after Walt Whitman’s poem
- Scott Wollschleger, Meditation on Dust, for Piano and Orchestra (2015) (approx. 21-23’): “. . . what would happen if a Strauss tone poem was left out in the desert for 1,000 years?”
- Keeril Makan, If We Knew the Sky (2014) (approx. 26’)
- John Harbison, Milosz Songs (2006) (approx. 27’), after 11 songs by the Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz. Harbison writes: “Milosz's poems are Epilogues for the twentieth century. He was witness to its most harrowing events. He draws us, unready, as he was, into the great sweep of that history. Always, he reacts, as in 'Encounter,' not 'in sorrow, but in wonder.'”
- William Wordsworth, Symphony No. 7, Op. 107, “Cosmos” (1980) (approx. 25’), “. . . reflects the composer’s lively interest in astronomy, cosmology, science, and science fiction . . .”
- Charles Koechlin, Vers la voûte étoilée (Visions of the starry firmament / Toward the starry vault), Op. 129 (1933, rev. 1939) (approx. 12-13’): “A nocturne for orchestra dedicated to the memory of the French astronomer Camille Flammarion. 'This is a journey to very distant places, far away from the Earth, but not far away from human sentiment' (Koechlin)”.
- Arne Nordheim, Evening Land (Aftonland), for soprano or tenor & chamber ensemble (1959) (approx. 15’): “Transition, transformation and existential wonder, as evoked by these lines in the second movement, resonate, sympathetically, seemed to be etched into the very musical fabric as well.”
- Arthur Levering, “Parallel Universe” (2014) (53’): “The repertoire here ranges from ambitious orchestral tone poems to intimate chamber works, all of them marked by an inviting combination of delicacy and robustness.”
- Joey Defrancesco, “In the Key of the Universe” (2019) (58’): you may wonder what the musicians had in mind.
- Milford Graves & Bill Laswell, “Space/Time • Redemption” (2014) (61’): “The first studio duet of drummer Milford Graves and bassist Bill Laswell, both yielding warriors of their respective dark arts, is a selfless proclamation. Residing in their speech is the yin for the other’s yang, a drop of sun for moon.”
“Hearts of Space” radio series, mainly New Age music, and similar offerings:
- Radio program tapes from 1983-1987 (142’)
- “Watercourse Way”, May 1995 (52’)
- Michael Stearns, “Planetary Unfolding” (1981) (45’)
- Stellardrone: “Light Years” (2013) (45’); “Invent the Universe” (2010) (59’); “Sublime” (2010) (57’); “On a Beam of Light” (2009) (55’).
When I heard the learn'd astronomer, / When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me, / When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and / measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer / where he lectured with much / applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick, / Till rising and gliding out I wander'd off by myself, / In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time, / Look'd up in perfect silence at the stars.
[Walt Whitman, “When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer”]
- Pablo Neruda, “Fleas interest me so much”
- Walt Whitman, “A Child Said, What Is the Grass”: “Song of Myself”, No. 6