Bewonderment: Awe and other stupefying things

“The atoms of our bodies are traceable to stars that manufactured them in their cores and exploded these enriched ingredients across our galaxy, billions of years ago. For this reason, we are biologically connected to every other living thing in the world. We are chemically connected to all molecules on Earth. And we are atomically connected to all atoms in the universe. We are not figuratively, but literally stardust.” -Neil DeGrasse Tyson
I distrust wonder implicitly. It is not meant to survive or have permanence. It is held up as a virtue in modern society. It shouldn’t be.

Wonder has a purpose in your brain but it isn’t to be sought for its own sake. To do so speaks to intellectually low-level behavior. Like the mind of a drug addict who has been commandeered by an overriding quest. It isn’t necessarily an ethical statement (although I could make it one) but it speaks to a reduction of intelligence complexity. A loss. In my world view, that becomes an ethical statement. It may vary for you.

Mystics and charlatans accrue a false credibility by deliberately creating bewonderment. Discipline experts obscure the narrow irrelevance of their field with overreaching attempts at forced poetic wonder. Theology uses it to subdue reason and establish a sense of authority. Bewonderment is declarifying, obscuring and mystifying. It’s a pacifying tool imbuing a psychological-informational sense on its bewondered listeners that the speaker has access to knowledge they don’t.

It’s an attempt at intellectual stagnation. That there exists a permanent mystery that shall be given infinite reverence.

Perhaps the speaker does know something I don’t but the attempt only makes me suspicious. Attempts to be awe-inducing or dramatic should put you on your guard.

Take new ageists for example. Clarity-seeking isn’t necessarily the exact opposite of what they do but it is different. The difference is made obvious when they are put side by side a clarity-prioritizer, and, after a while, after using clear definitions and simplifying narratives, make things less mysterious. Boring in fact. That’s fine. After interesting comes boring. This happens quite quickly. You’ve figured it out. You will find new things to be interested in. Or new levels. Obfuscation does something different. It injects mystery, drama, a sense of wonder. Our explanation systems should not purposely create this.

“If we do not look at it, the moon is gone. In this world, only an act of observation can confer shape and form to reality — to a dandelion in a meadow, or a seed pod, or the sun or wind or rain. Anyway, it’s amazing, and even your dog can do it too.” -Deepak Chopra

Mystification isn’t that hard or that useful. There is plenty to be in wonder about, mystified about, be interested in, things to figure out. There’s no point in artificially creating the actual state of mind or prioritize that mental state above actually figuring things out.

Wonder is just another mental state. It’s your subconscious system communicating a mismatch between new information and expectation based on old information. Expectation informed from all your previous experiences and information. Which is frankly embarrassingly limited. Frequent cycles of interest and boredom relative to your exposure are bound to happen but wonder isn’t a perpetual mystery to be treated with wonder itself.

“I turned the corner and saw in front of me this frozen waterfall, a couple of hundred feet high. Actually, a waterfall that had three parts to it — also the symbolic three in one. At that moment, I felt my resistance leave me.” -Francis Collins

Wonder and awe are states of confusion. Slack-jawed, drooling, stupefying confusion that has been somehow been culturally revered as a worthwhile human condition in our modern times. It’s been erected as an obelisk of our humanness serving as a pedestal holding up our stupidest ideas.

The majesty of a rock formation or a frozen waterfall. The state of being inspired. The idea we’re beings made from exploded suns. That billions of years of planetary experimentation crafted our bodies and minds. That we can describe concepts like infinity and love, and even combine them both into a single sonnet. Can you believe it? How wondrous wonder is? Yes, you’re easily impressed. Go away.

Mental confusion is bound to happen like some Neolithic tribe seeing a helicopter for the first time. But eventually even they get over it. There’s a reason befuddlement is socially embarrassing. I’m not chiding being momentarily impressed or momentarily confused. I’m saying bewonderment is a self-conscious stagnation of curiosity. A stagnation that is toxic to comprehension.

Just as the universe may have come from soul-chilling void so defined by nothing that it can’t even be described as empty; the intelligent biological algorithms of the nervous system came from an exhaustively unintelligent process of planet-wide genocidal culling for eons; our attempts at absolutism comes from an information organ grounded in relativism trying to efficiently reduce all patterns to one grand pattern. Feel free not to be continually impressed by any of this.

We can infuse our own interpretations on the world outside, to our own benefit even. Purpose, intent, autonomy, consciousness are encapsulating summaries, rough approximations we use. But do not tread outside the boundaries of those words with your own goals of bewonderment because that fiat currency isn’t redeemable outside the limits of those definitions. When you run into problems of answering a question, a paradox of meaning, it may be that you are asking a meaningless question. Using words not meant to be used in that way. Definitions have limitations, even our abstract concepts.

“The connection between cause and effect takes place in time. This temporary relation may be defined in various ways. Some people believe that cause always precedes effect, that there is a certain interval between the time when the cause begins to act (for example, the interaction of two systems) and the time the effect appears. For a certain time cause and effect coexist, then the cause dies out and the consequence ultimately becomes the cause of something else. And so on to infinity.” -Dialectal Materialism

Failures of our interpretations or systems of understanding should stand as an example of the obvious limitation of those words or meanings. Not as a paradox of the actual universe (or the machinery of your brain) to savor and dwell in for wonder’s sake.

Failures in our understanding shouldn’t be given reverence. To persist in bewonderment, disrespects what we are capable of. Failures, when they occur, ought to be distilled in the most arguing language possible and dissected cerebrally so that a wariness of them can be integrated into our intuition.

Ask poorly defined rhetorical questions if you want. Splash around in your astonishment at self-created paradoxes. Be puzzled by your own brain’s tendency to seek wonder. Get sucked into the mystery of that mystery. But then you’re not genuinely asking a question. So keep it to yourself. You will get an answer about how your question is a disaster or, more likely than not, no response at all. What you will not get from me is shared wonderment. Not even wonderment about why you seek wonderment. Or how the universe, as it appears to us is full of mystery. It’s all understandable. Hardly interesting. It’s just a lack of comprehension.

There are genuinely interesting things, even if they are scarce and short-lived. But the sake of wonder isn’t for itself, so I don’t need to go creating it deliberately. Intentional mystery through definitional sloppiness is a bad word game on the level of puns.

Deliberate wonder is to deliberately dull the comprehension of your mind. To be enchanted with wonder itself is to stagnate and undo clarification. It makes you vulnerable to shoddy explanations, robs you of your curiosity, capitulates your mind to the unimaginative and stands in the way of personal clarity.