Wonder is one of those abstract ideas that only comes up when describing children or “The Great Thinkers” of history. In my experience of working with children over the years, I have observed amazing young minds at work. The curiosity of a child never ceases. I once had a conversation with a 10-year-old about number systems. He was able to take the conceptual leap from Base Ten system and expand that to strange examples, such as Base Four. After several minutes of describing what he wanted to do, I made a statement informing him, “You would have to make a whole new numbering system.” His eyes were filled with minor frustrations followed quickly by excitement.
Most of us have experienced that moment when a young person makes a profound and insightful statement about a “Grown-up” situation. It could be some family drama or something regarding a romantic relationship and these words of wisdom fall out with no real effort. How can this “little person” master such a complex problem with such ease? The brain and mind of a child are creating new connections as they explore the world. Even the ones that don’t find formal education very rewarding. Think back to the last time you told a child something that blew their mind. Did the nugget of knowledge seem as fascinating to you as it did to them? Most likely not. The adult’s lack of reaction is completely normal. This is the natural progression from child to adult. As you learn more about something, the facts are not as astonishing as the first time. The trick is to keep learning new concepts so you don’t lose your childlike wonder.
Personally, I take an approach where I focus deeply on a wide range of interests, but usually in the same larger category. If I find something new, I really dig into it. I have spent hours going “down the rabbit hole” just to find out what a word in an article really means. An interesting example of that was Cryptocurrency and the Blockchain. My first dive into the topics went on for a couple of weeks. I read everything I could get my hands on so that I could really understand it. This was a few years ago before it had gone into the mainstream and it was really hard to find “easy to read” information. I will point out at this juncture that a less curious person would have did a quick search and moved on with life. Another example would be my love of all things space. Stars, planets, moon, and asteroids fill my mind and drive my wonder. Space seems to be a natural, if not extreme, representation of what I have been describing. Exploring the unknown to the farthest known point has always been our journey.
Imagine if we never made it out of those first caves as a species. The first person that decided to leave the safety of what was normal and explore leads the way for us now. We have conquered the planet, taken to the skies, and even further now, into space. While we observe our surroundings, we come to realize that we are both giants and the smallest speck, simultaneously. We can destroy 1000 new types of bacteria with on spray of chemicals. We can also look deep into the universe and find that the stars that we see in the sky could be cosmic fossils, long gone, centuries ago. If that doesn’t humble you a little, you are not doing it right.
The conversations in the recent years have been around the current generation of teenagers and early 20-somethings. The general worry is presented as a sense of laziness on the part of these younger people. Words like “entitled” and “spoiled” are used throughout these arguments. I have another theory (naturally). I think this stems from the lack of exploration, adventure, and learning past about age 13. I would imagine this is when formal education tells students to “Take things seriously” and, apparently, for most, lose their sense of wonder. Based on my days in the Education program at a local university, the more progressive schools are pushing new methods of learning that will excite the current and next generation back into this mindset. A study of Multiple Intelligences helps break away from the standard ideal of being intelligent. Being “Book-smart” is no longer the only measure.
Don’t get me wrong, I still think everyone should know how to multiply in their heads and be able to express themselves in written form. We still need to raise responsible children that respect the importance of finances and the natural beauty of nature. We need to help them solve problems in conjunction with memorizing the fundamentals. If we can capture the balance of education, exploration, and the all-important sense of wonder, the future will look very bright indeed.
What would the world look like if there was a 10% increase of people that were able to bring the sense of wonder with them into adulthood?