Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Wondering Through the Bewilderness

I don't know if this is still valid, but I remember learning in graduate school that the EEGs of extreme extroverts and thrill seekers are unusually flat, which is why they seek thrills -- in order to stimulate their brain. In the absence of a vivid assault on the senses, they just feel kind of dead.

Conversely, more quiet and introverted people showed a great deal of brain activity even while resting and doing nothing. Often, such a person can feel overwhelmed by too much external activity -- it overloads their nervous system, so to speak. I definitely fall into that latter category, in that I have always required very little stimulation in order to feel hyper-stimulated. For me, one is often a crowd. O is enough to deal with.

I was thinking about this while reading Pieper's For the Love of Wisdom: Essays on the Nature of Philosophy, in which he discusses the meaning of philosophy. He quotes Socrates, who remarked that "the sense of wonder is the mark of the philosopher. Philosophy indeed has no other origin."

But contemporary philosophy does not begin with a sense of wonder, nor does it attempt to cultivate it. Rather, it begins with the capacity to doubt, and then aggravates it, eventually turning a good servant into a tyrannical master, for there is nothing that cannot be doubted by doubt. It takes no wisdom or skill at all.

One reason I could never be a secular leftist is that it is a cynical philosophy that drains everything it touches of the dimension of wonder. For atheists and other philistines, the world loses its metaphysical transparency; surface is reality and everything is self-evident. They elevate our crudest way of knowing the world to the highest wisdom, and their self-satisfaction ensures that no spiritual growth can occur. They are a closed system.

The sense of wonder is not merely a useless "luxury capacity" that serves no human purpose. Rather, it is a spiritual sense that discloses valid information about the cosmos. In fact, like a divining rod, it tells us where to look for the water. It senses those "holes" in the landscape through which the wondrous spiritual energies gently bubble forth to the surface.

The flatlander who is confined to the everyday, proximate world can never really philosophize, whereas for the person who has been arrested by a sense of wonder, "the immediate necessities of life fall mute, if only for this one moment of impassioned gazing at the wonder-inspiring physiognomy of the world." I suppose the atheist might object that he too wonders at Being, but he would never agree that wonder is a spiritual sense that discloses valid information about the object that has provoked it.

Pieper points out that it is not the abnormal, the sensational, and the exciting that provoke the sense of wonder. Indeed, this is the whole point. Many people compulsively seek out the abnormal and the sensational in order to simulate a dulled sense of wonder that is incapable of perceiving the wondrous in the commonplace:

"Whoever requires the unusual in order to fall into wonder shows himself by virtue of this very fact to be someone who has lost the ability to respond correctly to the mirandum of Being. The need for the sensational, even if it prefers to present itself under the guise of the bohemian, is an unmistakable sign of the absence of a genuine capacity for wonder and hence a bourgeois mentaility" (emphasis mine). This highlights the fact that the weirdest people are usually the most banal underneath their weirdness. And the far left is nothing if not a collection of weirdos, misfits, rejects, losers, crackpots, kooks, "rebels," poutliars, and boo-hoomians hiding behind their "authenticity."

A genuine sense of wonder preserves the extraordinary in the familiar, and is therefore a key to happiness. Pieper notes that for Aquinas, it was one of the indirect proofs of God, in that "in the very first moment of wonder man sets his foot on the path at the end of which lies the visio beatifica, the blissful perception of the ultimate cause." In this regard, you might say that wonder is a way of "metabolizing reality," in that it involves both digestion and resultant growth.

(By the way, for those of you with my book, much of what we are discussing here dovetails nicely with pp. 215-16, in which I point out that a goal of the spiritual life is "to be in a mild state of (?!) at all times.... It is a matter of removing obstacles to its reception, not setting up elaborate, complicated, or expensive situations to trick the ego into relaxing its death-grip for awhile." In fact, to further quote my bobself, "All of us can, with even unschooled intuition, receive these transitory, partial, and mixed messages from O, the flotsam and jetsam that whoosh up from the father shore.... [But] only through spiritual development can these metaphysical freebies evolve into a more conscious relationship to something felt as a continuous presence.")

Now, our sense of wonder ultimately answers to the Mystery of Being, and a mystery is not an annoygma to be solved but a riddle to be enjoyed and even played with. And all of this falls under the heading of "the answer is the disease that kills curiosity." As Pieper points out, our higher bewilderness is not to be coonfused with resignation, despair, or hopelessness. To the contrary, our engagement with the mystery of being is generative and therefore filled with hope and joy, because it brings us closer to the ultimate cause of our wondering.

What actually provoked me to wonder about wonder was an essay by Dennis Prager on how Excitement Deprives Children of Happiness -- which is another way of saying that immersing children in over-stimulating activities will inevitably lead to an atrophied sense of wonder. As Prager writes,

"because we parents so delight in the excitement we see in our children at those moments -- because they seem so happy then -- we can easily fall into the trap of providing more and more exciting things to keep them seemingly happy at just about every moment. And they in turn come to rely on getting excited to keep them happy and to identify excitement with happiness. But excitement is not happiness. In fact, it is the ultimate drug."

Never before in history has so much excitement been available to people, but are they really any happier or fulfilled? I agree with Prager that "all this excitement is actually inhibiting our children's ability to enjoy life and therefore be happy." It "renders young people jaded, not happy.... That is why the frequent complaint of 'I'm bored' is often a sign of a jaded child, i.e., a child addicted to excitement and therefore incapable of enjoying life when not being excited."

Yes, it's the simple things, like playing under your puppy,

talking to your best girl on the phone,

or eating a golf ball:

32 Comments:

Blogger Smoov said...

This is just plain good advice--the part about kids I mean.

I guess to a large extent I would be considered someone addicted to excitement. I certainly was that way for most of my life. Right now my sole aim is to get out of the definitely exciting world of corporate entrepreneurship. Most of the people I know personally who have sold out big time (R.L. - $151M in 2001; B.T. - $220M in 2000) have gone straight back into the fray despite obviosuly never having to work again. Both men have started new companies, and both are working 60-70 hour weeks again.

Not me.

Nobody believes me when I tell them I'm just going to retire in my mid-forties, grow flowers and grow spiritually. Becoming spiritually active has made the allure of high-powered business activity vastly less appealing compared with, say, reading OC. I really mean that!

I'm certainly not going to turn down the money or give it all away or anything. However I am going to use it mainly to create slack, not generate even more money.

8/08/2007 09:12:00 AM  
Anonymous ximeze said...

Cute cute cute!!!! (FL too)
Does the puppy have a name yet?

She looks like a Tonga to me (to me,
she looks like a Tonga to me)

8/08/2007 09:13:00 AM  
Blogger NoMo said...

I wonder, therefore I am.

8/08/2007 09:28:00 AM  
Blogger NoMo said...

Wonder-full post today.

Keep gazing up!

8/08/2007 09:38:00 AM  
Blogger walt said...

What a refreshing post -- saying things that need to be said!

"One reason I could never be a secular leftist is that it is a cynical philosophy that drains everything it touches of the dimension of wonder." If I've derived anything from reading this blog, it has been that Beauty and Wonder are indications of God; and for me, their "absence" amidst secular leftism causes me to recoil from its arguments.

"A genuine sense of wonder preserves the extraordinary in the familiar." Yes, the spirit is hidden in plain view!

And, Prager is spot-on. I recall reading about a teenager who shot and killed a couple of other kids. When asked by police why he'd done it, he replied, "I wasn't gettin' my share of fun!" But I believe that most of the population is hyper-stimulated and craving "the more".

So...so, watch out, I guess!

8/08/2007 09:39:00 AM  
Anonymous Van said...

"One reason I could never be a secular leftist is that it is a cynical philosophy that drains everything it touches of the dimension of wonder. For atheists and other philistines, the world loses its metaphysical transparency; surface is reality and everything is self-evident. They elevate our crudest way of knowing the world to the highest wisdom, and their self-satisfaction ensures that no spiritual growth can occur. They are a closed system."

N.A.I.L.E.D. I.T. in this post.

In place of reverence and wonder, the look you find is the world weary 'can't fool me' ruffled brow and smirk. Take a look at Ted Dennet or the like. Look at any of the pop icons, hiphop especially, but pretty much applies across the board, the 'can't dazzle me' frown is epoxied to all of their faces. Watch any teen or coming of age movie, the wide eyed kid becomes the the immediate job 1 of the more worldly characters to see that he be 'disilusioned', that they see to it that he has a wonderectomy performed on him, post-haste.

They are also the ones with an addictive need to 'DO something!', merely living or stopping to smell the roses, to them reaks of BOREDOM.

(shudder)

"Excitement Deprives Children of Happiness -- which is another way of saying that immersing children in over-stimulating activities will inevitably lead to a dulled sense of wonder"

I wonder (huh... didn't mean that in the context of todays post, but... huh) how reading fits into this? Even though each of our kids got (and nearly demanded if they didn't get) read to at bedtime, getting them to read non-picture books on their own took some prodding to get past the 'But it's boring with just words and no pictures!' point. Once they get passed that, are able to put their attention into it, they are fine from there on, but it took some prodding to get to that point.

Seems that something needs to be ventured into (colonized?), some barrier must be gotten past, before the well... wonder... of reading is opened to them on their own.

Great Pics for the post (hope there's no transfats in that golfball)

8/08/2007 09:43:00 AM  
Blogger River Cocytus said...

That's one of the great things about the Harry Potter series. Despite, I think, the negatives associated with 'softening' of Witchcraft, what it has done is gotten millions of kids into reading in a way few others have been able. Breaking through the barrier of the internal - 'diagonally' as Rowling puts it, into the extraordinary in the ordinary. Perhaps we're supposed to learn that the 'magic' of Harry Potter isn't really witchcraft, but ordinary wonder.

Besides, according to the series, the power of love and devotion is stronger than any spell. Subtle but important point.

8/08/2007 09:54:00 AM  
Blogger NoMo said...

I used to say to my kids, "Just be." Once the initial reaction of "dad is nuts" passed (at least I think it did), the ensuing discussions were the best. Of all the things I instilled in them, I always hope the "sense of wonder" and "gazing up in wonder" stays at the forefront.

8/08/2007 09:56:00 AM  
Blogger Gecko said...

Wonderous laughter - even the pup is smiling!

8/08/2007 09:57:00 AM  
Blogger Mizz E said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

8/08/2007 10:03:00 AM  
Blogger Mizz E said...

I feel like this post is a personal letter you wrote to me in response to my question: "Why can't I stay with a man on the move?".

8/08/2007 10:07:00 AM  
Blogger CrypticLife said...

"For atheists and other philistines, the world loses its metaphysical transparency; surface is reality and everything is self-evident."

You might recall my arguing that things were NOT self-evident. Particularly things like "god existing". Being an atheist does not limit one's wonder at the universe, and does not necessarily make one "jaded", though there are a fair number of younger atheists who do fall into that sort of mold.

Given that "atheist" encompasses a vast group, including Buddhists and others who have a spiritual but nontheistic bent, you might consider using a different word.

The pictures are really sweet and cute, by the way.

8/08/2007 10:11:00 AM  
Blogger walt said...

"...quiet and introverted people showed a great deal of brain activity even while resting and doing nothing. Often, such a person can feel overwhelmed by too much external activity -- it overloads their nervous system, so to speak. I definitely fall into that latter category, in that I have always required very little stimulation in order to feel hyper-stimulated. For me, one is often a crowd."

This describes me for as long as I can remember. As a youngster, it was considered to be a personality "flaw," and worried my parents, I believe. Oh, I've done my share of grasping in this life, but always in an understated fashion. They say "negative space" is of interest to artists, and it always has seemed intriguing to me.

Ha! But now, there's this: "O is enough to deal with." Yes, this O---->k business is the quintessential full plate!

Great post, Bob!

8/08/2007 10:14:00 AM  
Anonymous ximeze said...

Smoov said: "Becoming spiritually active has made the allure of high-powered business activity vastly less appealing"

Do you wonder what your life would be like if it had not "happened", that switch had not (been?) flipped, or call it something akin to a fissure, or cracks that "appear" in a heretofore (thought to be ) "solid surface"? I do.

Had an uncle who made a bundle out of the Oil Crisis in the '70s. He was the unhappiest person I've yet to meet. His mother despised him, his wife pitied him, his children lothed him. Even on his deathbed he continued to spread poison. Don't think he could help himself, it was all he gnew.

I'm very grateful to my parents for their own sense of wonder, which was the norm in our household & encouraged by them. People with no imagination or sense of wonder & fun were deemed DULL - the worse-possible-thing-to-be. Flatlanders indeed!

8/08/2007 10:45:00 AM  
Anonymous Van said...

Cryptlife said "You might recall my arguing that things were NOT self-evident. Particularly things like "god existing"."

That question of self-evident can lead in two directions though. One route is what the 'typical' atheist will take, to the materialist reductionistic 'there's a simple switch and algorithym behind it all, I just know it, just need to look a little deeper' which becomes an excuse for not seeing what is self-evident, forever trying to look for 'deeper' causes, many little truths, no big Truth, little or no wonder. The other route( and Objectivism takes this route), is that of 'Existence exists, consciousness is the axiomatic recognition of that - and there's no getting beneath that point, it IS and it is the starting point. Period. Something mysterious happens, something which is wholly natural, entirely non-supernatural, but further than which our understanding cannot go.' That route does preserve the wonder (they would strenously object to any intimation of calling it Deistic wonder, though it is similar to that, by another name), it also has an understanding of Truth as being one indivisible whole.

"Being an atheist does not limit one's wonder at the universe, and does not necessarily make one "jaded""
and as above, I agree,

"..., though there are a fair number of younger atheists who do fall into that sort of mold."

And they are far more typical of the term.

8/08/2007 11:08:00 AM  
Anonymous jehu said...

Excellent observations. I have contemplated this subject many times but have not been able to articulate it in such a clear manner. C.S. Lewis touches upon this in his Sci-Fi Trilogy. I think it is the first book "Out Of The Silent Planet" Where there are two bad guys and one is ideologically committed to evil, the other is just doing it for the money.

The spiritual agent (angel) in charge of the planet (Mars) considers the person that is ideologically committed to evil as "bent." He may be salvagable, but the one committed to evil for money as "broken." The dividing line is the deadness, the loss of wonder.

I think that the inability to wonder or to be awestruck is the signal quality of a dead spirit, of someone perhaps unable to connect to God, perhaps permanently. It is no little thing IMO.

The modern Left has gone one better than even C.S. Lewis outlined in that they are ideologically committed to evil AND they are also dead. Islam has that same quality, so thus the convergence of the modern Left and Islam. It is a spiritual magnetic attraction....dead spirits, feeding on dead and false ideologies are drawn together no matter their seeming political differences. Somewhat like two species of vultures sharing the same corpse.

8/08/2007 11:56:00 AM  
Anonymous jehu said...

Also you can trace this deadness of spirit in our educational establishments to the ascendancy of Darwinian teaching. Before Darwin, biology, and geology, textbooks were filled with wonder and awe, though sometimes the interpretation and the science was limited or flawed.

After Darwin the wonder was stripped and instead you had the deadness of mechanism, and the fetish for labeling, that passes for knowledge among the scientific elites who have been educated beyond their intelligence. And at the same time the science is still limited and flawed, or outright wrong.

8/08/2007 12:02:00 PM  
Anonymous hoarhey said...

Thanks Bob, for the smiles.

8/08/2007 12:41:00 PM  
Anonymous Bob F. said...

A couple of gifts for your son: Ray Bradbury's Dandelion Wine (you can read it to him now or later), and Donovan's Gift From a Flower to a Garden, in which he manages to channel a seventeenth century minstrel. A few years from now you can also give him a copy of Dion and the Belmonts' I Wonder Why.

Bob F.

8/08/2007 12:44:00 PM  
Blogger holly said...

Very insightful writing and searching you have "bewondered" upon. Truths, as you seem to be at least partially aware, are Universal... expressed differently, yes... yet still only different flavors of the Same Essence. You, dear Wanderer, ARE That which you seek. Wonderful animated writing.

8/08/2007 01:39:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Funny how all of the aggravating excitement is delivered to one and all via TV and advertising which is all owned and controlled by those on the right of the political spectrum.

8/08/2007 04:51:00 PM  
Anonymous cousin dupree said...

That's a good point. Why are there are no liberals in Hollywood?

8/08/2007 05:53:00 PM  
Anonymous Van said...

What my office needs
a signed eight by ten glossy
of Cousin Dupree

(eh... hai-fu)

8/08/2007 05:55:00 PM  
Blogger Gecko said...

There are no liberals in Hollywood because they are all in Easthampton.

8/08/2007 06:50:00 PM  
Blogger Ricky Raccoon said...

Speaking of:
“One reason I could never be a secular leftist is that it is a cynical philosophy that drains everything it touches of the dimension of wonder.”

Have you seen this?:
Most detailed pictures of Earth ever seen

The first comment to the article is a perfect example of what Bob is talking about and picks up the scientism/environmentalism thread of yesterday. The commenter says:

“Something so beautiful and we are destroying it! Sad, very sad, we don't deserve to lease the planet!”

How can anyone look at these beautiful images, right in front of them, acknowledge they are beautiful, and then conclude it is being destroyed.

The title of the article should be, “Most beautiful pictures of Earth ever seen”.
The Earth looks to be thriving. I find the images comforting. Of course, I would after the bleak picture that’s been painted of her the past 30 plus years.
To look at the shear beauty of the World and not notice the contrast to every other floating body in the cosmos and to then not wonder why SO beautiful?
This place is an accident?
Please, Mr. Darwinian. Please.

8/08/2007 07:09:00 PM  
Anonymous tapu-tapu said...

Smoov:

Well, I wouldn't retire if I was you. The Master likes his people to work.

What is it that you want to do for people?

The spiritual man must do his share to hold up the world.

Retiring to work on one's spirituality is a wrong movement. Don't go there yet.

8/08/2007 07:34:00 PM  
Anonymous tapu-tapu said...

Addendum about work:

It is to be offered as a sacrifice to the Master of Works, our Lord Jesus-Krishna et al.

The money you recieve for your work is to go to the proper maintenance of yourself and your family. Excess should be circulated (spent) wisely.

Do no slack off excessively; neither should you overwork.

Put everything into your work to uphold the people. Do not indulge in frivolous occupations simply to obtain money.

Concentrate on essential goods or services or technology. Finance is pertinent.

Uphold the people.

8/08/2007 07:40:00 PM  
Blogger Smoov said...

tapu-tapu:

I hear you.

We've built a pretty decent system for catching would-be terrorists before they get on planes. It is getting traction globally (most recently Japan). It is far from perfect given that it had to be built with political correctness as Principle #1 (ahead of security, in my opinion, but I don't make those rules, governments do).

I imagine I will continue to work of some kind. My point was that I do not intend to get into that endless cycle of ratcheting up and up financially forever like so very many others like me do.

Ximeze:

All I can say is that when I was a Horizontal Man I thought I was happy. Only in the O-view mirror do I see the truth.

One of the reasons Bob's essay today was so compelling is that I understand completely what it means to take pleasure in a gust of wind carrying the scent of midsummer loam, or a kitten chasing string--instead of believing that pleasure can only come from a $100,000 car, an airplane or worst of all in the form of a crystalline white powder...

8/08/2007 07:50:00 PM  
Blogger Susannah said...

Brilliant post, Bob. Dovetails so nicely with the thinking I've been doing on our homeschooling lately.

FL and puppy are so cute! :) What a bright, happy look on FL's face.

8/08/2007 08:34:00 PM  
Anonymous Van said...

Three quotes, and one out of three ain't bad at all:

Smoov said "One of the reasons Bob's essay today was so compelling is that I understand completely what it means to take pleasure in a gust of wind carrying the scent of midsummer loam, or a kitten chasing string--instead of believing that pleasure can only come from a $100,000 car, an airplane or worst of all in the form of a crystalline white powder... "

Tapu-tapu said "Excess should be circulated (spent) wisely.
Do no slack off excessively; neither should you overwork.
Put everything into your work to uphold the people. Do not indulge in frivolous occupations simply to obtain money.
yada yada..."

POLONIUS said..."...Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice;
Take each man's censure, but reserve thy judgment.
Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy,
But not express'd in fancy; rich, not gaudy;
For the apparel oft proclaims the man,
And they in France of the best rank and station
Are of a most select and generous chief in that.
Neither a borrower nor a lender be;
For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry...yada yada..."

No offense Tapu, but one of these quotes has wisdom tied into the workings of a life (psst! Smoov! That's you!), the other two are words once of wisdom, but which by themselves are but words once wise made dumb through spoutting them as if they were incantations as the advising fool Polonius does in Hamlet, or fairy dust to be sprinkled on the heads of passers by.

Plopped into memory and dispensed about, the words lose their thread, meaning and wonder. Tied into a life as living poetry, they become a gust of wind carrying the living aloft.

(Yes I did have an unusually large beer tonight, why do you ask?)

8/08/2007 09:11:00 PM  
Blogger phil g said...

"...the weirdest people are usually the most banal underneath their weirdness."

Bingo!!! I have a close cousin who fancies himself an 'artist'. Blehhhhgggg...he builds fire cauldrans for Burning Man, dresses and grooms himself like a rediculous slob, live in girlfriend (marriage is passe)dresses like a clown, pierced, tattooed. I've met many of his fellow travelers over the years and they are the most boring, uninteresting, unkowledgable (in fact it is cool to be ignorant in this group) but they are counter culture man...dopes. What they are too unironic to realize is that they try so hard to be counter culture and without style or fashion that this effort actually becomes their hard core style and fashion. But it is the badge of lazy, ignorant, foolish, terminally immature flatlanders.

Their spirituality consists of beating drums, dancing around fire and a lot of talk about energy...so enlightened.

8/09/2007 03:33:00 AM  
Anonymous Biker Lady said...

"extreme extroverts and thrill seekers ..." of the type you mentioned.
They also have dead eyes... and give me the shudders.
They are creepy.

8/09/2007 08:12:00 AM  

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