Here's a quick metaphor for how I see wonderism hopefully doing some good in this world.

Have you ever found yourself staring at a candle flame, lost in wonder? Ever since I was a young kid, I thought it strange the hypnotic effect that fire can have on humans. It sparks the imagination. One of my favourite stories from mythology is the story of Prometheus, and how he stole fire from the gods of Olympus and gave the fire to humanity. Prometheus represented 'fore-thought', and is a good representative of science and reason. So, in this metaphor, we can think of the fire not only as literal fire, but as the flame of reason.

The flame of reason is a flickering flame in the candle of your mind that holds back the darkness of ignorance. With this flame lighting your way, the shadows recede and the world around you becomes illuminated. But the flame is not a magical, eternal flame. It is natural and susceptible to natural forces. It needs to be actively defended, because a strong wind can easily snuff it out. If we hold it close to us, we can protect it for a short time, but that is no guarantee for the future. One flame, alone, is vulnerable to extinction.

But one flame can light another candle. And two candles can light two more, and those four can light still others, until the flame of reason is able to find shelter in even the fiercest storm. Prometheus gave us the first tiny flame, and we must protect it by sharing it with others. When enough people share the flame, the combined light can hold back all darkness, and we can explore the vast wilderness around us.

This idea of passing the flame from one person to the next represents the idea that wonderism is not just about popularizing science and reason, but about popularizing the popularization of science and reason. Not just to be inspired by successful popularizers of science like Carl Sagan, but to also inspire others to inspire still more, and on and on.

This will take care and restraint, as flames can also be dangerous. But just as humanity has mastered real fire, we can also master the flame of reason. I believe that not only can we do it, but we must do it. The only alternative I can think of is surrendering to darkness. And I want to see.

I use this metaphor to help me when I'm in a discussion, or otherwise interacting with people, to try to approach things in a way that will raise their interests, rather than raise their defenses. Sometimes the person I'm trying to reach is the person I'm directly interacting with. Sometimes, I'm trying to reach the spectators who are watching the interaction. I try to be mindful of my intended audience, and I offer them my own flame of reason from which to light theirs. Like the candle flame, I try to spark their imagination and wonder.


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Tags: Prometheus, flame, ignorance, imagination, metaphor, popularization, reason, science, wonder, wonderism

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Replies to This Discussion

That's true. Metaphors are not perfect; they are usually ambiguous. That's why they're called 'metaphors', and not 'facts'. :-) Still, a metaphor can be pragmatically useful, as long as we're aware of its limitations.

Many contradictory movements could claim the candle/flame metaphor. I'm not worried about that. That's just the nature of metaphorical language. You can use it to say whatever you want, really.

The point is not the metaphor itself, but the idea it is trying to communicate. In this case, it is the idea that I see reason as powerful and useful, but also fragile and under threat. The solution, as I see it, is not just to defend reason, or to keep it to ourselves, or to hide it away, but to share it and inspire others to also share it. By proliferating in this way, reason stands a much better chance of survival and making a positive influence on the world. One of my intents at promoting wonderism is to contribute to this proliferation of reason. That's all the metaphor is trying to say. It just makes a more memorable and inspiring image if I phrase it as the candle/flame metaphor.

(PS: Yes, I was partially inspired by Sagan's imagery. Also the imagery used by the new book 50 Voices of Disbelief: Why We Are Atheists, edited by Russell Blackford. But the part about Prometheus being one of my favourite myths is true, and I wanted to focus on his 'gift' of reason. I also like the idea of tying it back to the taming of *actual* fire, as this was one of the key developments in the origin of humans, as was reason itself.)

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