A Sense of Wonder

July 21, 2013

Philosophy, Religion, Science, Wonder

A Sense of Wonder

Lying under the stars in the Sierra Nevada and having a front seat at the greatest and longest running celestial production, I can’t help but feel a quickening of the pulse, a swelling of the heart and a suspension of breath, the usual accompaniments of a profound sense of wonder. Richard Dawkins has described wonder as the source of all scientific inquiry and while staring at the stars it is difficult to gainsay him. As I watch the heavenly display I recall that scientists are in the midst of the third in a series of scientific revolutions that are shaping our understanding of our origins and our place in the cosmos. The Copernican Revolution in the 16th century exposed as an illusion the belief that the earth was the center of all creation. Later, the Darwinian Revolution unseated men and women from their divine pedestal of biological exceptionalism, and more recently the Stardust Revolution is revealing how life on Earth actually originated in the stars, placing life in a cosmic context. Some would argue that science is an acid eating away at the eternal mystery of life, but for my part science simply dissolves one mystery only to reveal a far grander one.

But it is not just science that has its origin in wonder. D.H. Lawrence said “There is a sixth sense, the religious sense, the sense of wonder”. Personally, I have never felt more religious than when I was playing with a particularly intelligent Chihuahua puppy and felt the wonder of being closely connected to another species and so, to all living creatures. Ignoring the trappings of religion, this sense of the interconnectedness of all living things is surely at the heart of all true religions and leads us to stand in awe at the miracle of ordinary life.

Socrates plausibly said that philosophy begins in wonder and his conversations as reflected in Plato’s dialogues, is certainly a tribute to his ability to feel wonder at what most of us would consider merely the mundane. But the sense of wonder is not just at the heart of science, religion and philosophy. Surely wonder is also at the heart of our reaction to great art, which, while moving us in unexpected ways, also impels us to stop and pay attention to the change in perspective that has occurred within us.

But how can one stop there? A knowledgeable traveler who visits the home of a famous but long deceased writer, and respectfully touches the desk at which the masterpiece was written, the historian who is moved by standing on the field of a great battle at which the fate of nations was decided, the parent who sees their child take its first steps. All share a sense of wonder.

Without a sense of wonder it is difficult to see why we would ever engage in any civilized pursuit. Indeed, without a sense of wonder we would not be recognizably human.


“Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality.”  Carl Sagan

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About Malcolm Greenhill

Malcolm Greenhill is President of Sterling Futures, a fee-based financial advisory firm, based in San Francisco. I write about wealth related issues in the broadest sense of the word. When I am not writing, reading, working and spending time with family, I try to spend as much time as possible backpacking in the wilderness.

View all posts by Malcolm Greenhill


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27 Comments on “A Sense of Wonder”

  1. Daniela Says:

    I just came over to yours to see what you up to so to speak and truly enjoyed reading this well-written post. Sense of wonder is necessary pre-requisite to any pursuit … it is a sense of wonder that prompts us to uncover our world and find our place in it.

    Wonderful post (as usual I may add -:))



  2. Clay J Mize Says:

    Very thoughtful. Thank you.


  3. cattalespress Says:

    You are SO deep Malcolm. Always appreciate reading your posts…they give me a sense of wonder!


  4. swabby429 Says:

    I feel a deep ache and, at the same time, wordless wonder when I go out of town and look at the night sky.


  5. campfirememories Says:

    Beautifully put! I am enjoying a sense of wonder just now at your post. Thank you!


  6. kateshrewsday Says:

    Oh, beautifully put. I’d not write a word without a sense of wonder. Wonder is a permission to question and celebrate everything around us. It is the best gift.


  7. skywanderer Says:

    Yet another stunning post – I absolutely share these sentiments you have so eloquently
    expressed. This subject reminds me of some of Einstein’s and Wittgenstein’s thoughts:

    “To believe in God means to see that life has a meaning.” (Ludwig Wittgenstein)

    “My religion consists of a humble admiration of the illimitable superior spirit who reveals himself in the slight details we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble mind.” (Einstein)

    “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.” (Einstein)

    Einstein’s “Physics and Reality” where he elaborates on above is not less than the most accurate and conscience proof of how science, consciousness, the natural world and the connection among these lead to the conclusion of the existence of a higher consciousness (=or illimitable superior spirit).


  8. Michele Seminara Says:

    Great post Malcolm. I love the way you effortlessly link concepts together to bring new perspectives. I always look forward to reading what you have to say!


  9. aFrankAngle Says:

    A powerful post. Generally, we take so much for granted, thus don’t realize that what we have started with a sense of wonder. Your tie with sense of wonder and science is right one … and cheers to the scientific works you mentioned!


  10. Ishaiya Says:

    Fabulous post.


  11. Casey Says:

    Reblogged this on The Sprightly Writer and commented:
    “science simply dissolves one mystery only to reveal a far grander one.”
    This post begs to be reblogged.


  12. swabby429 Says:

    I enjoyed this very much. Thank you for linking to it.


  13. Erika Says:

    I am never more in touch with this sixth sense than when I am in nature. This Mary Oliver piece comes to mind and thank you for sharing your insight.

    “Still, what I want in my life
    is to be willing
    to be dazzled –
    to cast aside the weight of facts

    and maybe even
    to float a little
    above this difficult world.
    I want to believe I am looking

    into the white fire of a great mystery.
    I want to believe that the imperfections
    are nothing –
    that the light is everything…”

    – Mary Oliver (“The Ponds”)


    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      “I am never more in touch with this sixth sense than when I am in nature.”

      Erika, clearly you’re a kindred soul as is Mary Oliver. Incidentally, your artwork is also a source of wonder. Very impressive.


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