The magical ‘Wonder’

‘Wonder’ is an interesting phenomenon. It usually happens when you encounter a powerful experience for the first time. Now, the power of this experience is proportional to how incomparable it is to whatever you have seen till date. It strikes ‘Wonder’. The other side to it is that it gradually diminishes as it becomes familiar.

Familiarity and prior knowledge is the enemy of wonder. There are so many examples in our daily life. Sometimes I hear a song that totally appeals to me. The first time I hear it, I am overwhelmed by it slightly. Then in the 3rd or 4th time, the enjoyment reaches the peak. It is vaguely familiar and feels very good but once the song ends its difficult to recall the tune. This enjoyment continues until I totally memorize it. Once that happens the song becomes totally familiar and the feeling of wonder reduces a lot.

Another example from my early childhood is looking at a tiny ant like airplane flashing lights in the sky and flying into the clouds. I saw a real airplane for the first time once when I was 18 years old. So this thing was a great mystery. How would the world look from that height? Whats inside that plane? How big is it really? What are the clouds surrounding it? Can I sit on them? What is this vast blue sky?. Looking at all this without any prior reading or conceptualization was simply magical. At that time, even though I had seen wire-frame sketches of an airplane and a few vague ideas like it has seats etc. everything was still vague enough to create enormous wonder.

When I look at things from this perspective, children today are simply deprived of all this wonder or the wonder spell lasts for a very short time. They go to the internet and pull out every facet out – 100’s of pictures of how an real airplane looks, its dimensions compared to a human, view from the airplane itself. There may be no need for the child to really use his/her imagination because everything is available on the internet ready-made.

I still remember a few story books I had read which stimulated this magic of imagination. The faraway free, basket of flowers, prince and the pauper etc. These books would just provide wire-frame pictures once every 10 pages just to give mild direction to the imagination. I can still mildly recall the worlds I created in mind for these stories.

Not knowing = mystery, and its a beautiful rapturous state open and full of possibilities. As adults the world becomes quite boring because novelty slowly dies down. When I think about travel, almost anything I project about the experience seems to be within what I already know. I cannot foresee something unusual, totally new and rapturous.

Say I am planning to go to typical tourist spots, say Hawaii. I have seen 1000’s of pictures and videos of Hawaii. If I go there, I might go with 4-5 friends. I can easily recreate the beach experience in my mind because I have already visited at-least 50 beaches in my life. I have had a lot of alcohol in my life so even that is familiar. I cannot see how it could give me a thoroughly unusual/rapturous experience. Am I expecting too much? I just want back the wonder created from the totally unknown.

Another example is my trip to redwoods. When I first read about the biggest trees in the world, I was so fascinated. But when I actually visited it many many years later, the wonder was gone or very little.

If I look at it scientifically, each experience creates neuronal connections in the brain. I think this creation activity that happens with a novel stimulus is immensely pleasurable and we call this wonder. Once your brain has formed an enormous number of interconnections, everything seems to fit into some permutation or combination of these precluding the need to create anything new.

I guess this fits in with the time passing faster as we age concept too. A child growing from 5 to 6 years old has lived 20% of his life while an adult going from 30 to 31 has only added 3% in comparison. Another analogy is of water filling in an ocean. Assuming it is filling at the same rate, the % percentage keeps on progressively reducing.

Another misconception people have is that really visiting a place is very different from you reading facts and stories about it with pictures and videos. Its not very different because anyways that is the way we prime our perception through beliefs. In a way you are just validating your projections by visiting that place. Your mind would only pick up information and store based on this framework which you have primed by your prior reading. Even if you don’t read you are already primed because of your conditioning.

Certain drugs like marijuana can temporarily make you relive this wonder. In our ordinary adult consciousness it is very difficult to be truly open and see things with the same wonder as a child. Is there a way to drop all beliefs, ideas and concepts and look at everything with this magical wonder?

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