Wonderism vs. post-modernism
In response to darth_josh's comment on wonderism, I wrote a defense of wonderism against charges of similarity with post-modernism. I hope it addresses darth_josh's concerns. If not, let me know where it fails, or what other similarities were missed.
Wonderism vs. post-modernismIn response to an announcement about this new group, darth-josh writes:
But it almost sounds pomotarded to me.
I will admit, my first instinct was to get a little defensive. Perhaps a touch of anger, perhaps a touch insulted. After all, my work on wonderism has become kind of a personal crusade of sorts. I've become personally invested in the idea. It's my 'pet theory', you could say.
However, I immediately recognized this as an ego reaction, a fear reaction. And so, I took a step back to examine that initial fear:
The first thing I want to say, before I answer darth_josh's comment, is that wonderism is not 'mine'. I have simply adopted it as my philosophy of life, but it is independent of myself. I am not my wonderism, and my wonderism is not me. If only more people in the world would recognize that people and their beliefs are two different things. Even dearly-held beliefs like religions should not be inextricably tangled up into people's egos and identities. A scientist should not insist on holding on to his pet theory in the face of strong, reasoned argument and evidence against it.
Therefore, I will strive to treat wonderism as a philosophy on its own, rather than an expression of my fragile ego. By making it public, as I'm doing here with this group, I'm opening it up to public criticism, and this is fair and just. I will defend it as long as it is defensible, but not longer. I'll strive to not even flinch at outright ridicule, if someone thinks it is ridiculous. As long as the criticism is honest, I'll attempt to respond with an honest defense if I can.
Another aspect in which wonderism is not 'mine': I don't even consider myself the first person to come up with a philosophy based on wonder. Perhaps I'm the first to publicly defend the name 'wonderism' as a label for philosophies of wonder, but there have been many people in the past, and now in the present, who are truly wonderists in all but the name (e.g. I consider Carl Sagan one of my heroes, and an honourary wonderist; I hope he would have been honoured by the sentiment). I have even seen other people who have used the name 'wonderism' for various ideas, some similar to what I'm defending here, and some quite different. So, I am A wonderist, not The Wonderist.
Especially, in regards to this group, wonderism is not 'my' philosophy in the sense that if you adopt the moniker 'wonderist', you necessarily agree with my personal philosophy. I consider wonderism as a generic name for a family of related philosophies, with the primary, shared idea of wonder as the core, foundational concept which motivates further developments and embellishments upon that root idea. Two wonderists may have strong and deep disagreements, but as long as they agree on the foundational idea of preferring wonder over terror in the face of the unknown, then they are both wonderists.
Therefore, when I defend wonderism in this group, I am defending both that core, generic philosophy, but also my own personal variation and development of that core idea. If someone disagrees with my take on things -- and I hope those who do disagree feel free to express their criticisms -- then I hope they do not reject the core idea of wonderism outright, in the mistaken belief that my variation of wonderism is The Wonderism. It isn't. It is only A wonderism. All other wonderists and wonderisms are welcomed to this group. And critics too, by the way.
Okay, with that vast disclaimer out of the way (sorry, it had to be said upfront), I would like to respond to darth_josh:
First of all, I want to express thanks to darth_josh, and encourage anyone who is skeptical or suspicious of wonderism to please come forth and let your criticisms be known.
I believe that a good philosophy should be able to pass the test of 'peer review'. I consider my peers to be skeptics, free thinkers, and science-minded folk. If wonderism has flaws, I want to know about them so they can be corrected, or, if incorrigible, wonderism should be rejected outright.
Back to his comment: "But it almost sounds pomotarded to me."
I have deep disagreements with some of the core principles of post-modernism, so this critique of wonderism as reminiscent of post-modernism is a very powerful critique, in my opinion. If I can't defend wonderism against it, I would be inclined to either throw wonderism away or start again from scratch. However, I think that whatever surface similarities wonderism might have with post-modernism, they are similarities of mere appearance, and not of substance.
I can think of a few ways wonderism might appear on the surface to be similar to post-modernism:
1) Wonder is an emotion, and we all know that emotional 'reasoning' is not to be trusted.
Wonder is indeed an emotion. It is a feeling of curiosity, of wanting to know, and of appreciation of knowledge. In the face of the unknown, it is an attitude of seeking to know, rather than withdrawing into ignorance.
For me, wonder is both the impetus to ask questions, and the answer to one question in particular: "Why seek knowledge at all?" The answer to that question is, "Because I wonder."
I agree with the general sentiment that most emotional reasoning is inadequate at best, and dangerous at worst. For most of my life, since quite a young age, I have experienced the negative consequences of other people making decisions based solely on their emotions and intuitions, and I reject emotional reasoning as a default. I dread the 'reason' given by so many people for doing what they do: "Because it just feels right." So many wrong things feel 'right' at the time of their doing.
But, in my conception of wonderism, wonder is only primarily the impetus to seek knowledge. It is not the final arbiter of truth or reality. (I don't even think there's such a thing as 'final' truth or reality, only better and better approximations.)
Wonderism does not mean, "I feel a sense of wonder, therefore I must be right!" I reject that reasoning as strongly as I reject faith-based reasoning. It is not actually a wonderist position to take, since it closes off further investigation, and shuts down the search for knowledge, rather than honestly seeking knowledge. It is more a fear of being wrong (fear of the unknown; i.e. terror) than it is anything wonder-related. The feeling of wonder, in that case, is just being used as an excuse to pretend to know the unknown.
A wonderist could (and should) respond to this faulty reasoning with, "Well, how do you really know that?" This question is a further expression of wonder, and is an honest seeking of knowledge.
So, wonderism does not stop at the sense of wonder, it only begins there. Acknowledging the feeling of wonder does not mean we enslave ourselves to it.
2) Well how do you find knowledge then? Anybody can feel a sense of wonder at anything, if they try hard enough. Are you saying that wonderism holds that truth and knowledge are relative, as post-modernists often claim?
It is true that anyone can feel a sense of wonder at pretty much anything, given enough self-deception and rationalization. This is why wonder is not our final arbiter of truth. Each person has their own experience of wonder, and so on the surface it might appear that wonderism endorses post-modernist-style relativity.
However, wonder is just the impetus to seek knowledge. It drives us on to find answers to questions, but there are real answers! True knowledge is possible, though not Absolute Truth, nor Final Knowledge.
My answer to this question is pragmatism (specifically, epistemological pragmatism). As I conceive it, pragmatism tells us that some answers to questions are more useful than others. It tells us that those answers which are more useful are 'more true', and those which are less useful are 'less true'. If an answer is basically useless, then I'd say it's fair to call it 'false'. Note that this usage of 'true' and 'false' is quite different from the usage in formal logic, where True and False are more like symbols in a system than they are actual indicators towards reality. It is only to the extent that a system of logic is useful within reality (i.e. is pragmatically 'more true') that the logical symbol of True is actually 'true'.
I don't want to go into a deep discussion of pragmatism here (that'll take another post or twenty), but suffice it to say that when wonderism finds knowledge (e.g. by seeking answers to the question, "How can we know things?" and finding pragmatism as one good answer), then we keep that knowledge, and we don't ignore it. The greater the knowledge we develop (primarily through the scientific method), the greater our sense of wonder expands.
So, wonderism rejects extreme relativism in favour of pragmatism. Wonderism seeks the ideal of reality, not truth per se. Truth points to reality, not the other way around. That which does not point to reality is not true. This is one of the strongest arguments against post-modernism. Post-modernism acts as if each person's 'reality' is completely independent of any shared objective reality. It is not correct to speak of 'my reality' and 'your reality'; more correct is 'my experience of reality' and 'your experience of reality'. Although different people experience reality differently, there is only one reality that we all share together. Truth and knowledge are measured against that foundation of reality, not against our varied experiences of it.
Wonderism endorses an objective conception of reality, while acknowledging that there are different subjective perspectives within that single reality.
3) Wondering is just a fancy word for navel-gazing. All you are doing is making up words that are speculative and ungrounded in reality. It is fantasy, pie-in-the-sky mumbo jumbo. Just like post-modernism. Unless you can point to a scientific paper defending wonderism, then the philosophy is worthless.
It is true that wonderism is a general, intuitive philosophy, and not a science per se. There are no experiments that prove the basic concepts of wonderism, nor any solid evidence to support them. There are no peer-reviewed scientific papers defending wonderism, and there probably won't be.
It is true that wonderism relies upon speculation and intuition, which are notoriously unreliable, and in many cases systematically flawed.
But wonderism is not intended as a replacement for science. That's what we have science for!
Wonderism, as I conceive it, is deeply allied with science. Science is by far our best, most reliable, and most trustworthy tool and method for learning real truths about the universe. I take the findings of science -- specifically the stable, consensus view, not the volatile, cutting-edge views -- as factual givens upon which to adapt and mold wonderism. If science finds that wonderism is wrong, we must conform to science, or reject wonderism outright (if it cannot conform).
Wonderism learns from science. It grows as science grows. It becomes more true as science corrects it.
There will probably never be a scientific paper defending wonderism as I presently conceive of wonderism. But that's only because my current conception is probably incomplete and/or flawed! My conception of wonderism will change as I learn science that challenges my assertions and intuitions and hidden assumptions. And so, there may eventually be scientific papers defending the core concepts that wonderism is founded on in the future, if wonderism can keep up with advancing science and adjust its core concepts to reflect science (which I think it can).
Does this mean wonderism is worthless? Isn't it just a laggard, always playing catch-up with real science? No. Again, wonderism is not here to take the place of science. It has another very important role, such that even scientists who are at the top of their fields can find value in wonderism.
As I conceive it, one of the key roles of wonderism is to popularize good science, good philosophy, good reasoning, good critical thinking skills, and good education (among other things, as well). One way of thinking about this is that wonderism attempts to provide: A reasoned defense of intuition, and an intuitive defense of reason.
I don't want to get into a deep discussion of intuition here, so I'll just give a simple definition for it. Intuition is our brains' natural ability to make pretty-good guesses (not perfect, but pretty-good, nonetheless). Stephen Colbert calls the intuitive 'feeling of truth' as 'truthiness'.
One of the big problems today is that there is a massive disconnect between the intellectual leaders and the general public. You could characterize this as two fictional populations: Those who rely mostly on reason, and those who rely mostly on intuition. The big problem is that most actual truth these days is completely counter-intuitive. Science's biggest accomplishments are to discover where intuition has gone wrong, and where reason and evidence point to deeper truths than our 'common sense'.
As a result of this disconnect, the public goes on about its intuitive business, and becomes more and more estranged from science, even developing distrust and outright hostility to science.
But some people -- and Carl Sagan was a master at this -- are able to convey the deeper, counter-intuitive truths of science in an easily understandable, intuitive way. They are able to make the counter-intuitive into the intuitive, so the general public can learn from and appreciate science, without needing a PhD. This is the job that wonderism is very well suited for.
As a sketch of an argument, here is how wonderism fulfills the role of defending both intuition and reason, with respect to each other:
Intuition is defended by reason with a pragmatic argument. Intuition is useful. It is not perfect, surely, and can even be systematically flawed (e.g. intuitive fallacies such as argument from authority). However, even given all its flaws and imperfections, intuition remains useful. Everybody uses their brain's natural in-born ability to make pretty-good guess every single day, and not just once or twice, but pretty much all the time, constantly. There is even a good argument to be made that intuition is the foundation of reason. Without intuition, we never would have developed reason. Which leads to...
Reason is defended by intuition with a wonderist argument. The vast and deep truths we discover with reason are more wonderful than the tiny and shallow truths we are stuck with if we rely solely on our basic intuitions. Have you ever had a gut-feeling or a hunch and it turned out wrong? Yep. That sucked, didn't it? Yep. Didn't feel so good. Well, guess what? There are tools we can use to correct our faulty hunches, and train our gut-feelings so that they turn out correct more often. These are the tools of reason. We know which tools of reason are better than others by which ones work better to make better guesses (or predictions) about the future. With these tools, we can discover more amazing things than we could without them.
These sketch arguments are just the beginning. In the big picture, wonderism inspires us to educate our fellow humans the way people like Carl Sagan aspired to do. Bring them the incredible and fascinating truths of the universe, while simultaneously tickling their truthiness feelings. Reason and intuition combined to actually reach through defensive barriers and help correct ignorance and dogma, with a more skeptical, reasoned, and scientific way of thinking.
Post-modernism, on the other hand, actively denigrates and rejects science, truth, and knowledge. It wallows in ignorance. It tries to drag everyone down to its intellectually bankrupt level. "Well, I may not know anything, but YOU don't either! So there!" Its invented words obfuscate, rather than clarify. Its speculations are detached from reality and reflect more the philosophical and political biases of post-modernists than anything illuminated by science.
The intuitions and speculations and conceptualizations of wonderism, being based on true knowledge borrowed from science, are actually useful, and not simply navel-gazing.
So, I hope this helps to show that wonderism is quite different from post-modernism, even if, at first glance, there may be some apparent superficial similarities.