December 17, 2017

“A cohort of wonder”

Jupiter in Support of the New Horizons Flyby (Hubble image)

Jupiter in Support of the New Horizons Flyby (Hubble image)

William P. Brown serves as a great example of someone who has integrated biblical studies with scientific and technological progress so as to promote a “theology of wonder.”

This portion from one of my favorite books on the Old Testament, The Seven Pillars of Creation, explains how Brown first caught that sense of wonder. I’ve included the video he describes — and it’s still fun to watch today. His last sentence is a keeper, capturing something I was trying hard to say yesterday. What we need today are people in the church who can capture the wonder both of ancient scripture and contemporary science and communicate them so that we can all share in that wonder.

 

The inspiration behind this study stems from a childhood epiphany that took place in a science museum in Seattle. Set off in a far corner was a small video screen whose button was waiting to be pushed by a curious child. I happily obliged. A serene scene unfolded of a young couple lounging on a picnic blanket in a Chicago park. But before my eyes could linger, the screen took me out above the park, the city, Lake Michigan, the continent, and the globe. Vast stretches of outer space quickly came into view. The solar system resembled something of an atom. Next came other stars, the swirling Milky Way, and finally empty space dotted with tiny galaxies. Then in a matter of seconds I found myself once again suspended over the lounging couple, pausing only briefly before closing in on a patch of skin and proceeding all the way to the cellular, molecular, atomic, and quark-scale levels. I was mesmerized by this dizzying ride through the cosmos and the microcosmos. I saw things I thought were privy only to God.

That presentation, I discovered years later, was Powers of Ten, the ingenious creation of Charles and Ray Eames. Both a visual thought experiment and a virtual rollercoaster ride, this now “ancient” video dramatically covered the extremities of scale, from the unimaginably vast (1025) to the inscrutably tiny (10-16), from the cosmic to the subatomic. The sum effect on me was nothing short of transcendent.

 

Gloriously “weird” is how physicist Brian Greene describes the quantum world. “Too wonderful” is how the biblical sage responds to creation’s marvels (Prov 30:18-19). The psalmist trembles before the vastness of the universe (Ps 8:3-4). Biologist Ursula Goodenough celebrates the “sacred depths of nature.” What do they all have in common? I wonder. Though separated by over two and a half millennia, the authors of ancient Scripture and numerous scientists of today find themselves caught up in a world of abiding astonishment. Like the ancients, many scientists admit to being struck by an overwhelming sense of wonder—even “sacredness”—about nature and the cosmos. What a far cry from Francis Bacon’s objectification of the natural realm as humanity’s slave!

The wonder of it all prompts one—anyone—to wonder about it all. Bioanthropologist Melvin Konner regards the capacity to wonder as “the hallmark of our species and the central feature of the human spirit.” Although Homo sapiens (“wise human”) may be too self-congratulatory, there is no doubt that we are Homo admirans, the “wondering human.” Wonder is what unites the empiricist and the “contemplator,” the scientist and the believer. “Everyone is naturally born a scientist,” admits astrobiologist Chris Impey. We can no more deny that of our distant ancestors than we can deny that of ourselves. Together, the ancient cosmogonist and the modern cosmologist, the biblical sage and the urbane biologist form a “cohort of wonder.” [emphasis mine]

• William P. Brown
The Seven Pillars of Creation: The Bible, Science, and the Ecology of Wonder
(pp. 3-4)

Comments

  1. Eckhart Trolle says:

    Now that Pluto is in the news, it’s only natural for religious types to want to appropriate some of that glory for their own God-talk. But astronomy is a fundamentally different project than biblical cosmology, which is useful only for literary purposes (like the cosmologies of Tolkien or Marvel Comics) and not subject to falsifiability. Astronomy cannot be reduced to a cosmology designed to make you feel good.

    • Robert F says:

      Feeling awe and wonder, before a scientifically observed universe or a spiritually known God, is not the same as “feeling good.” The living God is not in the business of making you “feel good.” There is no true language that isn’t also God-talk, including scientific language; and real God talk, like all true language, walks along a razor’s edge between the chasms of wonder and awe on the one side, and that of uncertainty and mortal danger on the other. The living God is no safer than the universe he created; the universe is no less living than the God who created it.

      • Eckhart Trolle says:

        Horsefeathers. The immensity of the cosmos drives home how insignificant all our religions really are–how insignificant Jesus is. The word “God” itself is meaningless. When you utter the word, you are waving a kind of flag, nothing more.

        • Only if one posits that all of that immensity just popped out of nowhere spontaneously (as a physics grade student tried to convince of once). I have as much difficulty believing that as you apparently don’t have in believing it. 😉

          • Eckhart Trolle says:

            Then where did God pop out of? A turtle…?

          • Yes, a big turtle with elephants on its back holding up the Disc. :-p

            Seriously, it seems to me that it is actually less credulous to believe the universe originated from God (the question of His eternality or no notwithstanding) than to believe than the “quantum fluctuation in nothing” model that grad student acquaintance of mine appealed to. It’s a matter of faith either way.

          • E.T., you only have four options for explaining why there is a universe instead of not:

            1. It caused itself (spontaneous generation).
            2. It was caused by something outside itself (deism).
            3. It has no beginning, but is eternal (pantheism).
            4. It actually doesn’t exist at all, but is simply one big illusion.

            You seem to be dogmatically asserting that 2 is out without staking a claim on 1 or 3 with a rationale. I’d love to hear a reasonable defense of either, but as for now, and after looking, I find 4 to be more compelling than either of those two.

          • Eckhart Trolle says:

            This is a scientific question to which dogma (whether mine or yours) has nothing to contribute. 2 could be true without theism.

          • Robert F says:

            Regarding 2: An infinite regress into the past is logically impossible; look it up.

          • That would be number 3, Robert. And 1 is scientifically impossible. 2 relies on the potential of an initial “uncaused cause,” something that exists of itself, apart from the known universe. “God” is the more popular way of referring to this concept. 😉

        • Robert F says:

          Surely you know that philosopher Alvin Plantinga (along with his colleagues) (Note: I don’t hold to all Plantinga’s opinions, but I think his philosophical defense of the meaningfulness of God-talks is irrefutable) has logically demonstrated that your assertion of the meaninglessness of God-language is based as much on scientifically non-verifiable metaphysical assumptions as God-language is. The kind of logical positivism that your language is drenched with no longer holds sway in non-religious academic philosophy departments across the country; non-theistic philosophy professors acknowledge now that logical positivism can only be supported by arguments that hide metaphysical assumptions, and as such are self-defeating. Your own statement, “The word ‘God’ itself is meaningless”, is an assertion based on metaphysical assumptions. That old canard doesn’t work anymore.

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reformed_epistemology

          • Eckhart Trolle says:

            But not all metaphysical assumptions are created equal. Science set a probe to Pluto. But your theology is useless for any practical purpose, much like astrology or belief in fairies.

            So you think “God” means something? I was going by the people who called him ineffable, but okay, fine. If you can define him for me, then I won’t call the word meaningless, but simply false (most likely–if you define God as the cosmos, for instance, then I do believe in the cosmos, though I will of course protest the misleading language)..

          • Rick Ro. says:

            There is great value to things that can’t be seen and touched and heard. Love, for instance. Is love useless?

          • Robert F says:

            Here’s my definition of God: God is love.

            Now I suppose you’re going to say that love-talk is meaningless, or false, or is a word that merely stands in, and is shorthand, for an adaptive evolutionary biological phenomenon, but nothing beyond that. Then I’d have to say that’s nonsense because I know, from experience, that loving, and being loved, is more than what you’re reductionist assertion claims it is.

          • Robert F says:

            Btw, You’re comparing the wrong things. Nothing in my theology impedes a probe from going to Pluto, and nothing in your agnosticism/atheism assists it.

          • Eckhart Trolle says:

            Love demonstrably exists, but has little in common with the usual descriptions of God. Love is an emotion and/or a form of behavior.

          • Robert F says:

            Love is stronger than death, so it transcends its emotional and behavioral content. I know that love is stronger than death because I’ve experienced it; that is, I’ve experienced the resurrected Jesus Christ loving me, and extending peace to me. And I experienced this as surely as, nay, more surely than I communicate with you right now.

          • Klasie Kraalogies says:

            Eckart, assuming a non-deistic universe, you still need to account for the occurrence of religion in “the rising ape”. That is in itself a profitable exercise. A random meme will hardly have the staying power that religion has had. I would recommend “The role of religion in human evolution” by Robert Bellah.

        • “When I consider the heavens, the moon and the stars which Thou has ordained, what is man that Thou art mindful of him, or the son of man that Thou visitest him?” – Psalms 8.

          I’d say that your first point isn’t exactly news to the breadth of Judeo-Christian thought. But for many (if not all) of us Christians today, it’s precisely our insignificance that speaks to the wonder of the Incarnation. But, as the Psalm above reminds us, even when geocentrism was normative, it didn’t always keep us from feeling small.

          • Eckhart Trolle says:

            The Incarnation is a myth. The guy didn’t even believe in the same religion as you. He was just a guy who lived and died, and now no longer exists. He has nothing to teach us about the universe,

          • Rick Ro. says:

            Opinion based on belief.

          • Eckhart Trolle says:

            Based on the preponderance of historical evidence. Meanwhile, your beliefs include details known to be impossible.

          • Rick Ro. says:

            There are many who, with the preponderance of historical evidence, believe what I believe.

            There are many people who are full-on scientists, researchers, etc. etc. who believe as I believe.

            You might just be one, too, eventually! 😉

          • turnsalso says:

            “Preponderance of historical evidence.”

            Care to point us in the direction of said evidence? You’re the one making the positive claim, so the burden of proof lies with you.

            Also, fantastic user name; I see what you did there.

        • flatrocker says:

          Ah yes…
          The smugness of the agnostic – it’s all just nothingness at the foot of the great and distant god Cosmos.
          or the arrogance of the gnostic – it’s all arrayed before me as I take the my rightful place at the throne of the god Cosmos.

          Which one are you again?

          • Looks like our Thursday Trolle is getting well fed. I guess that’s IMONK hospitality. Enjoy your stay Mr./Ms. Trolle.

          • Eckhart Trolle says:

            Defensive, are we? Methinks I struck a nerve!

            You presumably deny Krishna, Zeus, and Xenu. This makes you just as “smug” and “arrogant” as me!

          • flatrocker says:

            Methinks youthinks youis dabombdaddy.
            And the only nerve that was struck is that weird deadening sensation I get when I hit my funny bone.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            And right now this is reminding me too much of that shtick from the Sixties sitcom Julia. You know, the one with the two little kids endlessly yelling back and forth
            “DID NOT!”
            “DID SO!”
            “DID NOT!”
            “DID SO!”
            “DID NOT!”
            “DID SO!”
            “DID NOT!”
            “DID SO!”
            “DID NOT!”
            “DID SO!”

    • StuartB says:

      fyi, love your screenname lol

    • Clay Crouch says:

      Why does it bother you so much that some have found comfort in a faith you consider meaningless? For the life of me I don’t understand why someone so enlightened could be so cruel as to take pleasure in pissing on us ignorant, superstitious boobs. You remind me of that sad, lonely child who throws rocks at the other kids having fun on the playground. After all, as you see it, in only a very short while, it won’t really matter to any of us.

      • Robert F says:

        He/she’s been badly hurt, probably by religion, like so many who participate in this blog. That’s why he/she’s here.

      • Yes, I share your thoughts….. and amusement at those who get in such a religioius (passionate) kerfuffle over those who show some kind of religious sentiment….. where does all that anger come from ???

    • Robert F says:

      ET, I object to your reductionist view of things most of all because it is completely and utterly boring. No God, no love, no poetry; I would make up a religion out of whole cloth to avoid living in a reality as flattened out and dead as the one you seem to prefer. Go read “Equus”; and ET, phone home.

  2. Klasie Kraalogies says:

    Ah, Powers of Ten: My dad showed it to me on 16mm film way back in the early 80’s. Good stuff.

    You write about wonder: One needs to be able to “read” the world in order to see and follow the wonders. You’ll never follow the story unless you open the book and read it. You’ll never find out who saved the princess unless you follow the words, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph.

    For instance, I am a geologist. Over the years I have learnt to to read the landscape, drill core, assays. I have done a variety of things, but tend to specialize in 2 commodities, potash (which is a type of salt, and occurs with actual salt, halite, or sodium chloride), and diamonds, which are found in ancient volcanoes of a specific type (kimberlites – and strictly speaking they aren’t classical volcanoes, but flatter phenomena called maar diatremes).

    Anyway, I can look at a single drill core, and see a long history of large events in a salty inland sea – times of flooding, times of masaive salt crystallization, times of sediment being blown in by dry winds etc etc. Or, in other cases, the complex, violent history of volcanic eruptions that happened in the Cretaceous, again and again, of pyroclastic clouds like those that decimated Martinique a century ago, of magma that started it’s journey as low degree partial melts, picking up shiny little stones that are themselves much older, counting in forming under deep continental keels of long forgotten continents whose remnants are now spread across the world as cratons or ancient ( Archean) crust.

    The universe is fascinating – starting with the ground beneath our feet. It tells stories, magnificent tales, and they happen to be true as well. I am not even touching on the “sexier” sciences like zoology or astronomy. I am not even thinking about how incredible the basic language of the universe is, mathematics, from chaos theory to information theory to what not. We love in the midst of a awesome tale, if you but learn some of the words.

    • Brianthedad says:

      “Sexier” sciences? No way. Listening to your description of looking at a core was enough for me. Some of the best work times I’ve had was in the field with a geologist while we planned rehabilitation of water supply wells, listening to him describe what we were seeing in the aquifer samples we were pulling. It was like engineer porn.

  3. Robert F says:

    “We shall not cease from exploration
    And the end of all our exploring
    Will be to arrive where we started
    And know the place for the first time.”
    —T.S. Eliot

    First there is a mountain.
    Then there is no mountain.
    Then there is a mountain again.
    –Zen saying

  4. Christiane says:

    when a person of faith understands that ‘reason’ is also a gift from God, it opens a way for the person to look at the natural world with as much wonder as a small child must have had when first encountering it

    . . . people who have strictly divorced faith from ‘reason’ can’t see the miracles in nature or appreciate the complexities of Creation . . . something very sad about that

    “…methodical research in all branches of knowledge, provided it is carried out in a truly scientific manner and does not override moral laws, can never conflict with the faith, because the things of the world and the things of faith derive from the same God.
    The humble and persevering investigator of the secrets of nature is being led, as it were, by the hand of God in spite of himself, for it is God, the conserver of all things, who made them what they are.”
    (from ‘Gaudium et Spes’, a pastoral letter.)

    “Though faith is above reason, there can never be any real discrepancy between faith and reason. Since the same God who reveals mysteries and infuses faith has bestowed the light of reason on the human mind, God cannot deny himself, nor can truth ever contradict truth”. (from G&S)

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Isic2Z2e2xs

  5. LoveCreation says:

    Konner missed the rest of creation when he stated the capacity to wonder as the hallmark of humans. He must never have observed a dog on a car ride or walk in the forest, or a cat watching a moth thru the window, or even a bird listening and responding to a human chriping at them. Creatures of all sorts marvel at the rest of creation, we just fail to notice – and wonder at them doing so!

  6. Here is a modern interactive version of that old “scales” movie, courtesy of one of my all-time favorite websites, Astronomy Picture of the Day.

  7. “…and a mouse is miracle enough to stagger sextillions of infidels.” Walt Whitman

  8. That video let me understand for the first time just what the Magellanic Clouds are in relation to us. On a slightly different scale, with New Horizons I learned for the first time that Pluto has moons of its own. Who knew? Again on an even smaller scale, we here have our own outlier in our good friend, Faulty, who circles in his erratic orbit, making the occasional appearance like Comet Halley or Simon Magus of yore, a waving flag in a sea of waving flags. God says, yes, I see that flag. Lord have mercy.

  9. Michael Z says:

    It did my heart good to see a certain highly elliptical orbit included in the video at 10^13 meters.

    You will always be a planet in my heart, Pluto, no matter what modern people say. 🙂

  10. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    Set off in a far corner was a small video screen whose button was waiting to be pushed by a curious child. I happily obliged. A serene scene unfolded of a young couple lounging on a picnic blanket in a Chicago park. But before my eyes could linger, the screen took me out above the park, the city, Lake Michigan, the continent, and the globe. Vast stretches of outer space quickly came into view. The solar system resembled something of an atom. Next came other stars, the swirling Milky Way, and finally empty space dotted with tiny galaxies. Then in a matter of seconds I found myself once again suspended over the lounging couple, pausing only briefly before closing in on a patch of skin and proceeding all the way to the cellular, molecular, atomic, and quark-scale levels. I was mesmerized by this dizzying ride through the cosmos and the microcosmos. I saw things I thought were privy only to God.

    And most important, NO SMUG JESUS JUKE IMMEDIATELY AFTERWARDS!

    When I was still intermittently in-country in the Eighties, I spent a couple months in my only Mega, EV Free Fullerton. (No lawyer-written Membership Covenants in that era.) I went on a retreat with the young adults group at Palomar Mountain. We toured Palomar Observatory at one point, and with the famous 200-inch Hale telescope on one side and visitor exhibits on the other, I was having a similar experience as Wm Brown in the above excerpt. Almost like “Revered” Carl Sagan in his Spaceship of the Imagination in the original Cosmos.

    When I started expressing this on-the-spot to the Young Adults Pastor heading up the group, he shot me down with a Jesus Juke — something along the lines of “Well, *I* know the One who Created All That.”

    After that Jesus Juke, I have never had the passion for astronomy I had before.

    • Awww, Carl Sagan. More than many, he was the one to set my mind on the wonders of the cosmos and, yes, the wonders of God and I will forever fondly remember the original “Cosmos”–Neil DeGrasse Tyson was just not able to convey wonder in the same manner as Sagan.

      It’s hard to wrap my mind around a God who can create something as vast as the universe and I am in awe and a little fearful of One who has created such a marvel. But this Jesus, though I still have a hard time understanding him, he I can approach, with him I can commune.

      HUG, you wrote yesterday, “It’s the Doctrine of the Incarnation — no matter how Deep Time & Space become, no matter how big God has to be, God remains on a one-to-one human scale through Incarnation as Jesus Christ.’

      Now that is a “Jesus Juke” I can live with and live by.

      • Danielle says:

        I am still strangely moved when I hear Carl Sagan talk about almost anything.

        “Neil DeGrasse Tyson was just not able to convey wonder in the same manner as Sagan.”

        Well, it was a high bar to hit…

        • It doesn’t help that the new Cosmos gave Jack Chick a run for his money in its portrayal of the Catholic Church vs. Giodarno Bruno. I have one scene in particular in mind, which shows a shadowy, demonic-looking (complete with glowing eyes) church official in all his vestments giving Bruno his sentence. The only thing missing is the horns.

          Regardless of what one thinks of the whole Bruno affair and how accurate Cosmos portrayed it, I couldn’t resist a major snort and eye-roll at that one.

          • Danielle says:

            Not every reference to religion was that dark. There are at least two references to a main character’s religious views, at least three if you count Bruno. And while i wouldn’t have depicted it the same way, I won’t lose much sleep over negative depictions of the court proceedings.

          • Danielle says:

            I mean, they did kill him.

          • Fair enough. Not saying the church isn’t deserving of criticism in instances like these. It was the manner in which the Cosmos episode portrayed the church officials that bugged me in this instance.

      • StuartB says:

        I have GOT to make time to finish watching the new Cosmos and watch the old one as well!

        I’m seriously mad and bitter that I was denied those experiences growing up.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          I’d go with the old one first. That way, you get to see how the phenomenon all started. (And what spawned a couple years of Carl Sagan Impersonations at SF litcon masquerades, to the point the masquerade judges had to add it as a special category.)

          Sagan was apparently quite a jerk offscreen, but the man could write and present himself and his passion for science and astronomy.

    • I’ve had similar experiences, HUG. Really frustrating to see people try to “one-up” and short circuit an experience like that to try to pass themselves off as more spiritual, when in fact they are doing just the opposite. Ironically, by making such a “Jesus Juke”, as you call it, far from honoring God, they trivialize his witness through Creation. Worse, as in your case, they snuff out this flame in others.

      May we be open to God’s revelation through the Universe, and may we have no fear of sharing in the wonders with the rest of humanity. We were built for this. It’s part of what being made in the image of God means.

      • Being Jesus-juked is probably too strong of a term for what I generally experienced, but I did learn to expect religious non-sequiturs whenever I spoke up about some interesting astronomical or geological phenomenon. That is, it wasn’t so much that someone was shutting down the conversation as it was just aping the post-game interview tropes that evangelical Christian athletes (used to?) give when asked about their great performances — you can’t let the opportunity slip to “give God the glory” or it’ll be counted against you somehow.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          “It’ll be counted against you somehow” anything like Wretched Urgency’s “or God Will Punish You”?

        • Yes, thank you, “religious non-sequiturs” is more like what I had in mind. I couldn’t think of a better term at the time than what HUG had used, so I went with it ;).

          Totally agree with your last sentence, too.

    • StuartB says:

      And most important, NO SMUG JESUS JUKE IMMEDIATELY AFTERWARDS!

      THIS THIS THIS

    • StuartB says:

      I once had a former assistant pastor who, when meeting me for the first time, asked me after my name if i had seen any good movies lately (take a wild guess where this was).

      “Oh, sure, uh, the new Stars Wars (revenge of the sith), Serenity was good…”

      “oh, sweet bro. hey, you know what’s really cool? as awesome as those movies and effects hollywood makes, just think of how much cooler God is and this creation that he made within 6 days!”

      Needless to say, wrong foot, and it was downhill from there.

      Jesus Jukes. They fucking ruin so many things. I can understate how much I hate them and the culture they come from.

      • Danielle says:

        …. oh those youth group moments …

        … everyone is supposed to say what their favorite books is …

        …. back come the responses…

        “Pride and Prejudice”

        “Spiderman Comics”

        “Lord of the Rings”

        “THE BIBLE!”

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          Oh, there’s worse.
          Remember “Icebreakers”?

          The most memorable one I remember was an Icebreaker which consisted of posing the question “If you weren’t you, what would you be?”

          I went with the first thing that popped into my head when I heard the question. I was a proto-Furry who had just seen the TV Miniseries “V” and everyone else was GUBAs (Grew Up Born Again). The litany went something like this (guess which one was me):

          “Pastor.”
          “Missionary.”
          “Pastor.”
          “Missionary.”
          “Pastor.”
          “Missionary.”
          “Pastor.”
          “Missionary.”
          “Pastor.”
          “Missionary.”
          “Missionary.” <– (someone being edgy & courageous!)
          "Pastor."
          "Missionary."
          "Either a skunk or a man-eating Iguana."

          It was after that one that I picked up distinct signals that I had overstayed my welcome. So ended my only time in Mega country.

        • turnsalso says:

          When they say “what’s your favorite Bible verse,” there’s always THAT ONE KID who has to say “all of them.”

    • StuartB says:

      After that Jesus Juke, I have never had the passion for astronomy I had before.

      My response now would be to tell that person to fuck off.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        Absolutely. It is a moral responsibility and civic imperative to push back. The answer to the Jesus Juke is immediate and strong engagement – push them on what they said and attract the attention of people around you. They humiliation is better than their steering another young person towards a life of fear [and often material poverty – don’t want to get that Liberal education, oh no!].

        They will probably just view it as persecution anyway; they’ll have something to talk about at their next small group.

  11. Rick Ro. says:

    Brian Greene’s “Elegant Universe” is a wonderful show about the marvelous elegance of the universe. It’s fun to watch something when the host is so into the awe he’s describing; he does it in fairly layman’s terms, too.

    Good post!

    • Brianthedad says:

      He has a great book that explains astrophysics and quantum physics in an understandable and entertaining way. Real good writer. Witty. His chapter on Schrodinger’s cat is killer. Great book for air travel. Your fellow travelers leave you be.

  12. Danielle says:

    “The inspiration behind this study stems from a childhood epiphany that took place in a science museum in Seattle.”

    This resonates!

    I don’t know when in childhood I realized that the universe was exceedingly, mind-bogglingly large and complex. There has to have been a point that something made me aware of it, but if so I’ve lost the memory. So far as I can recall, it always seemed startling and wonderful. I was obsessed with nature and natural history in grade school, an obsession fueled by documentaries. William Brown’s experience in the museum is, I assume, the same transfixion that I experienced so many times replying the VHS tapes containing those journeys into the micro and macro universes, or into the diversity of species and environments, or into the immensity of natural history.

    People are similarly transfixing. It look me longer to discover this – but once I did, I repeatedly return to awe at the fact that individual people are so complex. I love how the movie, “Inception” pictures this. Inside the mind, worlds within worlds! What is more, there have been so many people – all carving out a life – and those lives carved in such different civilizations and circumstances.

    In all directions, expanse.

    I wish I could reach out and touch distant places in the cosmos – what is out there? I wish I could sit down with a thousand people from a thousand different places and listen to them talk while I serve pie. “No, don’t leave; you talk, and I’ll keep the food coming.”

    “The wonder of it all prompts one—anyone—to wonder about it all. Bioanthropologist Melvin Konner regards the capacity to wonder as “the hallmark of our species and the central feature of the human spirit.”

    I agree. This *feels* to me like the very core of being human. I cannot explain or defend that thesis: it is just how I have always felt.

    As I didn’t encounter organized religion on anything but the most casual basis until I was a teenager, these kinds of feelings probably also count as my earliest (and maybe most poignant?) religious memories.

    • Oh, my! Wonderful thoughts, Danielle. Like you, it seems I’ve always found the natural world wonderful. I probably spoke too soon above about Carl Sagan being the one to open my mind; looking back, it was actually my parents who created an atmosphere of curiosity about not just the natural world but all knowledge. We had a subscription to National Geographic in which I was always absorbed, we were regular visitors to the local museums–science and history as well as art.

      I don’t know if it was an intentional effort to spark my imagination or just an outgrowth of my parents’ own sense of wonder and awe. Mind you, they weren’t highly educated–just working class folks but there was an appreciation for all types of knowledge and I am so thankful to them that they passed that along to me and I hope I’m able to do the same for my children.

    • Jung said, “It is on the whole probably that we continually dream, but that consciousness makes such a noise that we do not hear it.” It is in wonder and imagination that we come a little closer to the language of the night, the language of dreams. One of the hallmarks of Einstein’s thinking, by his own admission, was his imagination. The child and the genius are both at home there, seeing the unseeable.

  13. Dana Ames says:

    Off topic, but I think some of us can connect…

    RIP Theodore Bikel – Memory Eternal.

    Dana

  14. Yea Theodore Bikel! “If I were a rich man, dah de dah”