Wondering Through the Bewilderness
I don't know if this is still valid -- probably not, since I learned it in college -- but I remember reading about how the resting EEGs of extreme extroverts and thrill seekers are unusually rather flat, which is precisely 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. Such individuals can also be drawn to stimulants such as cocaine and amphetamine in order to gain a spurious sense of life without having to do anything. But that just burns out the synapses, leaving them even more endeadened in the headend.
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. It took many years for me to finally be comfortable about being uncomfortable in my own skin. These types of individuals are often attracted to the more calming type drugs. Back in my undergraduate days, I remember feeling as if I were always two beers shy of normalcy, so to speak. Let's just say I occasionally overshot the mark.
I was thinking about this while eyeing Josef Pieper's For the Love of Wisdom: Essays on the Nature of Philosophy, in which he discusses the meaning of philosophy. He quotes a fellow named 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. You can take any buffoon with a capacity to doubt, and make him, I don't know, the Alphonse Fletcher chair at Harvard.
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 philisophostines, 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 -- the baptizing Waters of Life. It senses those "holes" in the landscape through which the wondrous spiritual energies gently bubble forth to the surface. Look, there's one now! Which reminds me of one of the mysterious Sayings of Toots: Why listen to me? I'm all wet.
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 and predictable underneath their weirdness. And the far left -- you know, soak-alled liberals -- is nothing if not a collection of weirdos, misfits, rejects, losers, crackpots, kooks, "rebels," outliars, and auto-victimizing boohoomians hiding behind their "authenticity." You know, the "herd of independent minds."
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 mybob, "All of us can, with even unschooled intuition, receive these transitory, partial, and mixed messages from O, the flotsam and jetsam that wash 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." God is a presence. Nonetheless, we have to open it in order to have our second birthday.
Now, our sense of wonder ultimately answers to the Mystery of Being, and a mystery is not an enigma 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 confused 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."
So, what have we learned? It's the simple things of life. You know, like extreme seeking, off-road spiritual adventures, verticalisthenics, gymnostics, isness ministration, neurocosmology, coonical pslackology, applied non-doodling, nonlocal dot connecting.... and a couple of beers.