It's about the wonder

WHO are we? What do we do, that is so ‘different’, so ‘special’?
     I am talking about the tribe of philosophizers: the philosophizers of yore, as well as those who are yet to come, as well as the many who are still in hiding, still cowering in the woodwork, too scared or even ashamed to admit what they are, even to themselves...
     ... Or maybe who are still not even genuinely sure what they are. (You could be a philosophizer and not even know!)
     And then of course there is myself. Their supposed ‘representative’, their unelected spokesman, ha ha.
     You’d be surprised, there’s actually no puzzle about what we are. We philosophizers are easy to figure out, transparent even. There is only one thing we are after. Everything else can go hang so far as we’re concerned. All the things you think are so important — they don’t move us at all. You philosophers, for example, are so entangled in your debates and disagreements, that’s all you ever see. Who said what to whom, who holds this theory, who holds that theory.
     There is only one thing we care about: the wonder. It’s all about the wonder.
     What we do, is not so difficult. You don’t need to be a genius. But there’s a knack to it, it’s not something that comes naturally to people. I’ve never been able to hold my hands together like so, and blow through and make a hooting sound, though I’ve tried and tried over the years — ever since I saw a young lad do it with no effort at all. Woot! woot! Even though I’ve been shown ‘how to do it’ on numerous occasions, I just can’t get the knack, and I don’t seem to understand why. Maybe my hands are the wrong shape? What shape do they have to be? I have absolutely no idea!
     It’s the same with philosophizing. Only there is something you have to see. Seeing it, seeing that ‘something’ is the thing that requires the knack. You can be told a thousand times ‘where to look’ and you won’t see it. You can follow the prescribed route, taking note of each road sign along the way, and stare and stare all around, and you still won’t see it. Then, one day, you could be making yourself a cup of coffee or travelling on the bus, and, suddenly, it’s right there, in front of you. Wow! — An epiphany.
     Nothing changed, nothing happened. And yet at the same time everything changed. The whole world. ‘It is as if previously everything was up and now everything is down,’ as I once wrote (The Metaphysics of Meaning, chapter 1).
     Everything is down. The movie set facade is down. The ‘world’ you once believed in is gone — forever. Cardboard and tinsel blown away. ‘Kansas has gone bye bye!’
     For the first time, you grasp the possibility of nothing. (If Heidegger had only stopped at that point, instead of going through all his tiresome phenomenological rigmarole, he could have been a philosophizer!)
     I hope that by the end of this book, you will have at least caught a glimpse of what I am talking about. Or maybe you have seen it, you know...
     So strong is the desire to see that ‘something’ — to experience the ‘I know not what’ beyond the mundane world, to keep it in view — that human beings have gone to incredible lengths. Ascetics. Hermits. Fakirs. Staring at the sun until you go permanently blind. Or holding your arm up until the joints permanently freeze. (It seems revolting to those who have never SEEN, but those who have, they understand — kind-of, anyway.)
     It’s something I’ve thought about, what would I give, what piece of my body would I sacrifice... and that is as far as my thought takes me. Shudder. But maybe I am fortunate. I see it all the time. I can’t stop seeing it. (Sometimes, I wish I could.)
     The mystical tradition is well documented, but this isn’t anything to do with mysticism or its esoteric doctrines. Mystics claim knowledge of a special kind. And they believe they have developed certain practices that will reliably lead an initiate to that knowledge. Whereas philosophizers are sceptical about there being anything to ‘know’ — in that kind of way — or anything that our normal methods of finding things out can’t reach. It would be closer to the truth to say that what we see, or glimpse, is a wall, a limit, a stop sign.
     A cosmic stop sign: Here, but no further!
A metaphysical wall...

     That’s why philosophizers don’t have much use for ‘reason’ or ‘logic’ as these are understood in the philosophical tradition. We don’t ratiocinate. There’s simply no point. In our day-to-day practice, we look. We see, and we describe what we see in as simple terms as possible. ‘Don’t use a long word when two or three short words will do.’ That is our motto.
     As a philosophizer, I’m just not that interested in ‘human knowledge’ or its ‘scope and limits’. How parochial! And also a bit of a bore, really. (Admit it, you philosophers!) No, I am making myself better. I am adjusting my mental attitude. To aid me in my never-ending quest for self-improvement, I look at, consider many of the same problems and questions philosophers have looked at. But my purpose is different. I know, in advance, that these problems can’t be solved. The questions can’t be answered. They are more like exercises, like weight-lifting for the body builder.
     By doing these trials and mental exercises you will learn to see more. You will begin to feel your ever-increasing connection with reality, while at the same time achieving a certain distance from the trials and tribulations of the mundane world. That’s what the ancient sceptics taught. It’s all familiar stuff, nothing arcane. A mental adjustment, nothing more, as I said. An adjustment to the way you see the world.
     As every schoolboy knows, philosophy, according to Plato and Aristotle, ‘begins with wonder’. Philosophizing ends with it. That is its sole purpose: to enlarge, stimulate, satisfy the capacity for wonder.
     Plato and Aristotle saw wonder as a spur to knowledge. Asking the big questions and then going about answering them. But what they mean is more like mundane curiosity. Of course, we human beings are curious. That’s how we got to the Moon, that’s how we discovered the Higgs Boson. But there is more, so much more, that has got nothing to do with ‘things you can make or find out’.
     Just as in body building, you can never have enough muscles, so in philosophizing you can never be filled with sufficient wonder. Your mind literally expands to accommodate it. There is always more to make you feel wonder, more to wonder at, more wonder to feel when you are confronted by the wondrous!
     The philosophizer wonders at wonder itself. How is wonder possible? Where does it come from? How did I get to be this way — to be a being capable of wonder?!


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