All of us who have interacted with young children are accustomed to the common question “why?” This one word inquiry, can often be the source of great exasperation as we frantically concoct an explanation to why chocolate milk doesn’t come from brown cows. It doesn’t take long for these questions to cease as children begin to notice the stigma attached to asking questions and soon the slightest hint of wonder or fascination disappears. Especially today, when maturity, sophistication, and composure are venerated, it is difficult to retain a sense of wonder without being branded as childish. The desire to conform and the belief that questions are extraneous encourages ignorance and discourages the attainment of knowledge. This unfortunate plight is a call to action to bring back wonder and all the benefits that accompany it.
Wonder is a basic human emotion and as 18th-century Scottish moral philosopher Adam Smith put it, wonder is “when something quite new and singular is presented… [and] memory cannot, from all its stores, cast up any image that nearly resembles this strange appearance”. This rather simple explanation perfectly sums up this primitive emotion that has even been discovered in animals. Jane Goodall observed while working with chimpanzees in Gombe, the response of these primates to new and spectacular sights. Often, when introduced to something extraordinary, these chimpanzees would gape for extended periods of time. However, because animals are unable to utilize their intellectual facility, they are unable to channel this emotion into something more concrete.
As humans, however, we are able to deploy this emotion into many fields. The obvious being the field of science where wonder is the spawning ground for new ideas and research. Wonder allows us to not only appreciate the unexplainable, but because we are lovers of control, wonder allows us to explain the intangible, or to replicate the very thing that brought us a sense of admiration. In addition to the realm of science, wonder engenders philosophy, the reasoning behind a certain belief.
Furthermore, wonder connects the spiritual and physical realm. It was wonder about the origins of the universe that triggered the extensive collection of greek myths, and the plethora of religions today. Although we desire to hear theological explanations, some of the impalpable that generates fear must be explained by the spiritual realm. It is because of our need for control, that the awe-inspiring feeling of wonder is able to generate a vast array of subjects near and dear to our society.
The acquisition of knowledge should not abolish wonder. Wonder generates knowledge. Because uncertainty is ubiquitous, we must learn to embrace, instead of avoiding the unknown. So, why wonder? Because we can.