Sense of Wonder

Guest post from NNC docent, John Cosgrove, in response to see the World of Wonder Science on a Sphere program

Sense of Wonder

Some thoughts upon returning home after watching Jeff’s “World of Wonder” Science on a Sphere show.  There seem to be two types of wonder.

There is the wondering that drives investigation. What is this thing? How does it function? How did it originate? Can I ever know it? These are the kinds of questions that scientists and engineers might pursue. When asked to explain his work,  the Nobel Prize winning physicist, Richard Feynman answered: was to figure out how to control,

how to analyze and discuss the original quantum theory

of electricity and magnetism

But the Noble Prize was of little importance to him.

The prize is the pleasure of finding things out.

He was driven by curiosity and wondering.

Then there is the other sense of wonder, the awe,  that arises when caught up in mystery.  Why is there something rather than nothing.  Does the universe have meaning?  The unexpected tear when listening to that piece of music. The sense of self when pondering the ineffable vastness of space or deepness of time. The poets speak of this.


Rachel Carson:

If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children, I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantment of later year…the alienation from the sources of our strength.”


And Mary Oliver:

Mysteries, Yes

Truly, we live with mysteries too marvelous
to be understood.

How grass can be nourishing in the
mouths of the lambs.
How rivers and stones are forever
in allegiance with gravity
while we ourselves dream of rising.
How two hands touch and the bonds will
never be broken.
How people come, from delight or the
scars of damage,
to the comfort of a poem.

Let me keep my distance, always, from those
who think they have the answers.

Let me keep company always with those who say
“Look!” and laugh in astonishment,
and bow their heads.


As I write, I am sitting by a window on a chilly morning, warmed by sunlight, a distant gift. As I ponder the process, I am astonished –  nuclear fusion, energy propagating through the nothingness of vacuum, a dance between electric and magnetic fields, arriving in 8 minutes after traveling 93 million miles.  Why that and not something else?

And my little pup, Andre, melts into the shaft of sunlight on the soft carpet, not pondering anything, just being.

Nurture Nature Center is a place, but also a process of science, art, and dialogue, that nurtures my sense of wonder.  That gift from the good fairy.


John Cosgrove