Wonder and an open mind
Philosophers have taken an interest in open-mindedness in recent years, both for reasons that are interesting to me, but also that point me in a slightly different direction. In the literature, open-mindedness is seen as an important intellectual virtue. Open-mindedness, they say, is a useful state of being because it permits a thinker to consider possibilities, to challenge previously held beliefs, and to allow for careful weighing and adjudication of evidence.
I’m cool with all that. But it seems to me that this kind of thinking narrows us.
Can we be intellectually virtuous without making judgments? Without weighing alternatives? Without even caring about the truth? At least for a moment. And if we can, can we call it open-mindedness?
This is what I’m thinking. Open-mindedness is essential to the experience of wonder.
Wonder comes out of that white-light moment of not thinking. Wonder is the experience of not knowing what to think, of just hanging in between appearance and reality and not knowing. And being ok with not knowing.
Have you ever stared into deep space through a telescope? There are two different kinds of experiences in the same viewing. There’s the rational—what am I looking at?—experience. This is the science part. The curiosity part. Sometimes you count, sometimes you compare, sometimes you note colour. But then, sometimes it occurs to you that you are staring thousand of light years into space. And that means that you are looking thousands of years into the past. Suddenly the rational part of your mind cuts out.
I am looking thousands of years into the past. I still get a thrill every time it occurs to me. Thinking nearly stops. I am at once minuscule and insignificant, while simultaneously feeling touching my connection to the deepest tissues of reality. I am. Alive. In an incredible universe.
The wonder passes and my mind, wide open a few seconds ago, slowly narrows the opening and grasps rationality again.
I want to remember wonder. I want to live in wonder for greater amounts of time. Can wonder touch our lives, longer and more deeply? I wonder.