The Importance of Wonder

Today it’s Vernal Equinox. For scientists it’s the zero point of sidereal time, and for mystics it’s the passage from Winter to Spring.

Forty five years ago I was living on the top of a mountain in Cyprus, where there was no pollution, atmospheric or light, and the clarity of the night sky was a source of wonder way beyond the knowledge of science. At that time I was an officer in the RAF, with more than a passing knowledge of astronomy and maths, and yet there I was, looking at it, wondering why we just don’t fall off into that unimaginable space. There is, beyond the curiosity of science, the absolute wonder of what we can observe but not understand.

It’s rare now to see a night sky like this. It’s partly due to the weather in the UK being rather less co-operative, and partly due to to pollution. Even when the night is clear, the stunning clarity of the night sky is absent. I miss it.

What bothers me more though is how easily we ignore it. We are in a time where our hours are so heavily constrained by the pursuit of ridiculously small, short term goals in pursuit of things of little real, and only temporary importance that we don’t take time to stand and wonder why we spend the short period we have here doing what we do, in a universe four and a half billion years old, give or take a year or two, and that will end in, give or take, 22 billion years time. Enslaving ourselves to next quarter’s results somehow doesn’t seem that important.

Science gives us explanations for a small part of what we can observe (around 5% – the rest is “dark”). The rest is made up of wonder.

So, if the sky permits tonight I will go outside, look up and wonder.

We underestimate wonder at our peril when we limit our horizons to what we think we can explain.

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