This was originally posted in response to jrfrog's blog on Aweism. It explains one motivation for a philosophy of wonderism. (Re-posted here since it was too hard to link to from jrfrog's comments section.)

Taking a Step Beyond Awe

"My awe stops there: at awe."

This is why I did not call myself an aweist. I had considered it, but I knew that I could not simply stop at awe. I had to make a fundamental choice.

So, I prefer wonderism, and here's why.

Awe is our most basic experience of the world. As a baby, everything inspired awe in you. But there is an inherent duality to it. You can be drawn toward it, or repelled away from it. Let us call these orientations 'love' and 'fear'. Or, if you want to go all Greek, we can call them 'philos' and 'phobos'.

When you experience awe, it is always a mix of these two orientations. The thunderstorm terrifies you, but you stare out the window in fascination. The newborn baby brings tears of love to your eyes, but you also see the daunting responsibilities ahead of you.

The two forces, love and fear, compete. If they are balanced, that is simple awe, and you are held in your place. If the love wins out, you are drawn toward the awe. If the fear wins out, you flee from it.

This duality is expressed in the phrase 'mysterium tremendum et fascinans', which can be roughly translated, for my purposes here, as 'awe of terror and wonder'.

The question is, in your life, which of these will win out: The tremendum, or the fascinans? The terror, or the wonder?

I choose wonder. I base my philosophy on not just 'awe', but a certain kind of awe, the awe where the philos wins out over the phobos. I reject philosophies which are based on terror, where the phobos dominates the philos.

Now, this whole thing may seem a little hand-wavy, but the implications are actually quite straightforward. Philosophies based on terror include most religions, especially the fundamentalist, fire-and-brimstone, fear-of-God kind. That phrase, 'fear of God', is a huge red-flag that the philosophy is going to be based, ultimately, on terror.

The problem with mere aweism is that it does not make this distinction or choice. Terror is a legitimate kind of awe. All humans experience it. But that doesn't mean we need embrace it as defining our philosophy. So, can an aweist legitimately criticize a religion based on terror? I don't think so. But a wonderist can. And can do so clearly and forcefully, without hypocrisy.

Wonderism is one step beyond simple aweism.

Wonder has multiple interesting meanings. The first is the experience of wonder, which instigates us to be drawn toward awe and the unknown. The second is the verb 'to wonder', which means both to ask a question, and to imagine possibilities. The third is the noun 'a wonder', with the implication that if we apply our knowledge, we can achieve great wonders.

Though wonder is an emotion, it plays a crucial role in the generation and gathering of knowledge. It is the impetus to learn. Without wonder, without curiosity, there would be no science. Wonderism is a philosophy strongly allied with science. Think of Carl Sagan, and you should get the general idea.

Awe is important, but it is only a starting point.

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Replies to This Discussion

Very profound, I agree with this, and it is very true that to discover the wonder of the reality around us we must explore,learn,discover,and grow [evolve] through that discovery. Discovery brings a sense of awe[Philos-type] and wonder. If we as a species stop exploring,or learning,we risk the loss of feeling wonder at what we discover or experience,and apathy might be the result. Better to explore the wonders of reality than to sit in the apathy of dogma,in my humble opinion any way.

Thanks, Kelly. In my recent work with tutoring young students, I've applied a wonder-based philosophy to it: Learning is inherently fun, and anything that gets in the way of it being fun needs to be changed or removed to let the learning be fun again.

IMO, the most important thing I can do for a student is to help keep alive that innate sense of wonder, and to foster a life-long love of learning. I've gotten some good feedback so far, and I continue to learn myself how to improve my tutoring methods.

You make an interesting point.

Wonderist, I like the way you defined words for this discussion and especially the way you link, 'awe of terror and wonder'. I have concernes and am writing about politics, economics and religion attempting to define the current challenges facing us, not only our nation but the world. Even as current events scare the daylight out of me and leave me feeling helpless, I am able to see some options that give me a sense of wonder. I think the problems are human made and can be human solved. Especially when I observe writings of concerned people who offer alternative points of view. Confusion, disagreement, failures, challenges provide impetus to seek, and ask, and learn better ways of social and cultural development ... kind of like the evolution of culture.  

Awe enhances life.

Being in Awe Can Expand Time and Enhance Well-Being

The researchers found that the effects that awe has on decision-making and well-being can be explained by awe's ability to actually change our subjective experience of time by slowing it down. Experiences of awe help to brings us into the present moment which, in turn, adjusts our perception of time, influences our decisions, and makes life feel more satisfying than it would otherwise.


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