Sunday, July 26, 2009

Wondering Through the Bewilderness

Last night I dreamt about writing an ironclad proof of God. However, I can't remember what I wrote. Oh well. It'll come to me eventually. In the meantime, I dragged this two-year old baby out of the smoking arkive. As always, it has provoked many second thoughts that I have tucked in here and there.

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.

40 Comments:

Blogger Van said...

"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.""

Absolutely true, and absolutely the opposite of the modern approach.

"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."

I'll resist the urge to second that with three or four paragraphs of my own, and just point to my post that doubtlessly agrees with you.

7/26/2009 09:15:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

"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)."

How very true. Having spent enough years among the outlandishly boo-hoomian, they are the most tragically bored people I've ever known. It really is terribly sad.

Found Prager's essay, I certainly agree with the title... and if my slack survives the 'yard work' glare my wife is burning into the back of my head right now, I look forward to reading it today. I wasn't always successful, but when ever my kids said "I'm bored", I went out of my way to try to slow things down even more... talk a bit, point out this or that, read if possible. The stimulous bill, at all levels, is a bankrupting one to pay.

I ended up having to provide some ferry service yesterday to an outlying town about an hour beyond where we are, which is already at the fringes of the St. Louis area. And driving back alone on a quiet two lane road, radio off, windows down, sun roof open, at that time where the horizon sky is still pale, mid-way up some stars are twinkling through, and above is deep blue and glistening with diamonds... I had to pull over and just... become wonder-full. Stopped again as I neared home and it was full dark... incredible.

wv:venticio
Not sure, but sounds like Harry Potter should be shouting it.

7/26/2009 10:01:00 AM  
Blogger Ricky Raccoon said...

"Conversely, more quiet and introverted people showed a great deal of brain activity even while resting and doing nothing."

Same for heart beats, Bob? Mine is always high - 90 and sometimes over 100 bpm while resting. Always has been this way for me. But my blood pressure has always been textbook.

7/26/2009 10:12:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

I don't know if there's any connection to heart rate. Mine is 60 or so resting....

7/26/2009 10:17:00 AM  
Blogger Ricky Raccoon said...

Wonderful post. And what could be more wonderful than something as simple as some loaves of bread, and a few fishes that fed thousands. How is this possible? How is it not possible. Something else would have done it? Feed, I mean.

7/26/2009 10:17:00 AM  
Anonymous Cousin Dupree said...

They say that Toots refreshed the whole bar with just two beers and a couple of pickled eggs...

7/26/2009 10:21:00 AM  
Blogger Ricky Raccoon said...

It’s always been this way; even when I was the most fit of my life training for the marathon in my teens. I don’t want to know how high it was during the running. Too scared to look.
My father’s is like yours – and we talk about each other’s all the time. He takes everyone’s pulse.
BTW, mine really goes-to-town after a beer or two.

7/26/2009 10:22:00 AM  
Blogger Ricky Raccoon said...

Or maybe it's for a beer or two.

7/26/2009 10:23:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Oh well. Laws of anatomy are made to be broken.

7/26/2009 10:26:00 AM  
Blogger Ricky Raccoon said...

Last time (underline that) my Dad took my pulse he shook his head again and said, “You only have so many heart beats.” I said, “I don’t believe that.”

That's a short story.

7/26/2009 10:33:00 AM  
Blogger Ricky Raccoon said...

Speaking of two-fingers (that’s also a pulse joke) the latest Iowahawk’s a good one.

7/26/2009 10:37:00 AM  
Blogger lance said...

The definitive work on Socrates was really done in the "Bill and Ted" movies but it is nice of you to give it a try Bob.

Keep up the good work.

7/26/2009 10:39:00 AM  
Blogger Susannah said...

This brings to my remembrance a book by Ravi Zacharais, Recapture the Wonder.

7/26/2009 10:55:00 AM  
Blogger Susannah 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 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." Perfectly put! I'm keeping this bit, along with the Socrates quote.

7/26/2009 11:06:00 AM  
Blogger Susannah said...

And boohoomian is a keeper, too.

7/26/2009 11:07:00 AM  
Anonymous ximeze said...

A little Sunday fun

"Chris Link, MD, has written (and sung!) a clever and funny ode to the Obama Single Payer System, illustrated for your viewing enjoyment."

tw:AT blog

7/26/2009 12:57:00 PM  
Anonymous Abdul said...

Obama plays the basketball. It played of the meeting some military soldiers, when it was in the Middle East. They do not die to Obama. Creed that some the words in this article erroneous. Here God is very informed approximately like people. I write of God in my building, so that people can all the part receive the information in truth. Also like the clause, seizure here its voice me, that first is touched during all the returns. They are, I oscillate I myself like hurricane, Abdul

7/26/2009 01:51:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

I'm sure it sounds beautiful in the original Arabic.

7/26/2009 02:13:00 PM  
Blogger Ricky Raccoon said...

Bob, might there be a connection then between the pickled eggs and how Toots got his name..?

7/26/2009 03:06:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

It depends upon the method of interpretation one adopts. For example, allegorically, we know that "the wind blows where it will." Which, as I understand it, was a cause of discord between Toots and Gladys. Plus it was a very small house.

7/26/2009 03:27:00 PM  
Anonymous will said...

>>the resting EEGs of extreme extroverts and thrill seekers are unusually rather flat, which is precisely why they seek thrills<<

And constant company. They get loneeeeeee . . leeeey. And demanding in one way or the other.

The coon loves solitude . . but knows when to participate community-wise. The coon also knows how to grant others their solitude.

7/26/2009 03:28:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

Will said "...The coon also knows how to grant others their solitude."

Especially when the winds doth blow....

7/26/2009 03:41:00 PM  
Anonymous Toots AKA Jack the Ripper said...

Gladys can't handle the Toots!

7/26/2009 03:59:00 PM  
Anonymous Hank Ketcham said...

"Boys will be boys, eh officer?"

7/26/2009 04:01:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One thing I notice that's different about liberals and conservatives, is if a liberal is having a conversation about something, they certainly won't go out of their way to insult a conservative. That's not to say they don't bring it up, but certainly not to the level Bob takes it. It seems as though Bob has an obsession.

They don't hear you, and they don't care. Why waste your time saying things about liberals when the only liberals who actually take the time to read through your rants probably realize that the world isn't black and white, no matter how you paint it.

And by the way, those kooks, losers, misfits, and such, now control congress and the White House, and the media.

Try as you might to propagandize the term liberal, just as Nazi's did Jews, Ha, Godwin's law, but you're still talking about your fellow Americans.

It's a shame as diverse as all societies are growing that it's so simple for simpletons to group them all together. It's funny that some of the most voiced liberals I've ever met wanted to vote for Ron Paul in 2008.

I realize that on the face of things, it's easy to view members of another ideology as pure dumbasses or whatnot, but the only reason I feel it happens is because the only time either side decides to talk to the other is to cause an argument, to prove a point and not stand down.

And Bob wonders why he doesn't get an audience; he's great at talking down on everybody, including fellow Christians. Typically though if somebody is so thought provoking, you'd actually see conversations around here where there could be civil disagreements. I don't understand why Bob thinks that talking down on others requires intelligence. If anything, it takes a lot more intelligence to convince somebody you really possess some worthwhile ideas. And judging by the size of his audience, Bob's got a ways to go. Maybe it's not his ideas, maybe it's just his attitude.

7/26/2009 06:26:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

It would be all too easy for us to make fun of that comment, but speaking only for myself, I'm not so sure I could have done any better when I was 14.

7/26/2009 06:40:00 PM  
Blogger Ricky Raccoon said...

"if a liberal is having a conversation about something, they certainly won't go out of their way to insult a conservative."

During the Bush years, it was as if there were no other kinds of conversations.

7/26/2009 06:48:00 PM  
Blogger James said...

Awesome post.

7/26/2009 07:18:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gotta say Anonymous (wasn't me) came out the winner just then. A "clever" ad hominem fallacy in response is still an ad hominem fallacy.

7/26/2009 07:43:00 PM  
Anonymous Cousin Dupree said...

Ad hominem means to "attack the man." I think you mean "child abuse."

7/26/2009 08:31:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Since you seemingly have no problem with the "fallacy" part, the part that's most important, perhaps there is nothing for us to argue over.

7/26/2009 08:45:00 PM  
Anonymous Cousin Dupree said...

I can't presume to speak for Bob. He might disagree with my characterization, and call it "appropriate discipline," not abuse.

7/26/2009 08:51:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually, I'm the one with the obsession.

7/26/2009 09:20:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That wasn't me, I was the one who agreed with the 14 year old Anon..

7/26/2009 09:22:00 PM  
Anonymous goddinpotty said...

You're calling Gates an "academic fraud" because you've read a significant amount of his work and are qualified to judge it, right? Because otherwise you run the risk of appearing to be some kind of loudmouthed ignorant asshole.

7/26/2009 10:58:00 PM  
Anonymous godinpotty said...

Much like myself.

7/26/2009 11:22:00 PM  
Anonymous goddinpotty said...

Anyone else marvel at Gates' rhetorical brilliance, when asked by the white cop to step outside he replied, "I'll talk wit your Mama outside"?
The young are in good hands with such scholars.

7/26/2009 11:28:00 PM  
Anonymous maineman said...

Thanks, Bob. I was looking for a centerpiece around which to fashion my toast at my oldest daughter's wedding next Saturday, and I believe I've found it here this morning.

What could be more mundane and wonderful than a traditional wedding?

7/27/2009 05:06:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Not only is Gates an academic fraud, he's only 43% victim.

7/27/2009 06:08:00 AM  
Blogger xlbrl said...

I think it was Chateaubriand who observed that men of letters could endure solitary confinement well, while common criminals quickly broke.

8/01/2009 10:12:00 AM  

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