I ran across this essay in the April/May 2009 issue of Free Inquiry and it impressed the hell out of me. After showing it to some friends, 80% of them now say "I think I'm an Aweist." The other two were impressed as well but didn't make a commitment. After a lifetime of uncertainty about what to call my brand of nonbelief, I now consider myself an Aweist. I'd love to hear what the A/N community thinks of this new nomenclature.
So here, reprinted with the kind permission of the author is:

Aweism
by Phil Zuckerman

The most beautiful emotion we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of all true art and science. He to whom this emo­tion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead, a snuffed-­out candle. - Albert Einstein

"What are you?" Since I study religious people professionally, teach courses on religion, and find myself debating or discussing religion with just about anyone whenever the chance arises, this question is thrown my way on a regular basis. People often want to know how I label myself when it comes to my beliefs, perspec­tive, or self-designation. For quite a while, I had difficulty answering that question precisely because I have always felt that none of the common terms or labels accurately reflect my orientation. But I have finally found a term that suits me: I am an aweist.
I'd like to explain what aweism is, how it is distinct from other com­monly held or better-known secular orientations, and why I think it is a useful term to describe a certain dis­position or personal perspective. I am not writing this explication of aweism in order to argue that being an aweist is somehow better or supe­rior to other orientations-I am not seeking to win any converts. Rather, I offer up this piece on aweism with the simple hope that others out there may relate to my musings and per­haps feel some familiarity with what it is I am trying to describe and assert. And should this be the case, then maybe others might find the term aweist as useful as I do when confronted with the common ques­tion: "What are you?"

'ATHEIST' IS FINE, BUT ...
Of course I am an atheist; I don't believe that any of the gods that have been created by humans actually exist. O.K., so as a confirmed nonbeliever in God (and Thor), the designation of athe­ist is one I readily accept. But it is not one I feel comfortable using when people ask me to label myself. Here's why. First off, the term is one of negation rather than affirmation. It declares what I don't believe in, what I don't think is true, what I don't accept. That feels like a real loss to me, for when people ask me what I am I would like to offer a positive, affirming designation, not merely one that negates what others (however wrongly) believe. To use an analogy, describing oneself as an atheist is a bit like describing oneself as "nonwhite" rather than "Tibetan," "Black," or "Nez Perce." Second, the label "atheist" does­n't adequately capture the joy of living that I often experience-the general sense of amazement and deep, almost mystical appreciation that I regularly feel sweetly, wistfully, mournfully churn­ing through my marrow when I listen to good music late at night, see pep­pertrees, make love, smell autumn, remember my grandfather, read a good book, am lapped by green-blue waves in the summertime, act altruistically, or chase my children in the backyard at dusk or take them to a rally protesting an unjust war. Because I have a real love of life-not to mention a deep sense of the profound mystery that is existence, the beauty that is creativity, and the power that is justice-I find that the self­designation of "atheist" simply falls short, falls flat.

'AGNOSTIC' IS OK., BUT...
I also find that the label "agnostic" falls short. Here's why: for many people, being agnostic means that one neither believes nor disbelieves in the existence of God. In the words of Julian Baggini, an agnostic "claims we cannot know whether God exists and so the only ratio­nal option is to reserve judgment." Maybe there is a God, and maybe there isn't-one just can't say. This is a fine position to take, I suppose. But on closer consideration, one must ask: is it even really a position? It is actually more like the absence of a position, for it entails noth­ing more than admitted indecisiveness or embraced fence sit­ting. Let's take an example from politics. If, before the presi­dential election, we asked Jody if she was planning to vote for Obama or McCain and she said, "I don't know. I can't really be sure. I just can't make up my mind. I am not really convinced that either one is good or bad," we wouldn't call Jody pro-­Obama or anti-Obama, pro-McCain or anti-McCain. We would­n't classify her as a Republican or Democratic voter. We'd rightly designate her as "undecided." And "undecided" isn't really a political position but rather the lack of one.
Now, back to the God question. A person who cannot decide whether there is a God or not or feels like it is impossible to say one way or the other isn't really anything at all other than undecided. And there is actually a much more appropriate Greek term for such a position: adoxastos. Adoxastos more accurately refers to the inability to form a belief or opinion, to be undecided, to be perpetually on the fence. When it comes to the question of God's existence, I am not undecided or unable to make a decision. I am an atheist. That's one reason why I don't call myself "agnostic" anymore.
To complicate matters a bit, there is of course a second, deeper meaning commonly associated with the term agnostic. It is one that is much more in line with the literal Greek mean­ing of the word: to be "without knowledge." In this vein, being agnostic means that one believes that there are certain aspects of existence that simply cannot ever be known or understood: the human mind may be limited and some aspects of reality may transcend our understanding and comprehen­sion. This type of agnostic believes, in the succinct words of David Eller, that "to use the human mind as the measure of all ontological possibility is a scary thought." Perhaps the nature of time and/or space falls into this camp-do they end or begin, and how is either possible, let alone conceivable? And what is outside of the universe? (If you say "nothing," you face more questions, such as: how far out does this "nothing" extend, how is this "nothing" to be measured, and how long has it been there?, etc.). And even if some brilliant scientists can one day work out the answers to these perplexing ques­tions, there is still the unavoidable biggie: why is there some­thing instead of nothing?
In sympathy with the agnostic position, I believe that there are just some eternal unknowns out there. The God question is not one of them, but other questions do persist that may ulti­mately be unanswerable-which suggests, to paraphrase Shakespeare, that "there are more things between heaven and earth" than can be dreamt of in any philosophy. However, although I do consider myself agnostic in this vein, I prefer not to use that label simply because I find it to be it too narrowly intellectual. It is too cognitive, too heady. "Agnostic" implies a strictly contemplative position regarding life and its vexing questions and mysteries. But when I ponder the existence of certain existential questions and cosmic mysteries, I often have an emotional reaction beyond that of mere dry puzzlement or cold contemplation. I feel something. In fact I would go so far as to say that sometimes I experience or feel existential questions and mysteries-concerning life, death, being, and the uni­verse-more than I simply ponder or contemplate them. And the label "agnostic" neither adequately captures or satisfacto­rily conveys that experiential or emotional dimension.

'SECULAR HUMANIST' IS BETTER, BUT...
Last year, I participated in a university study group with some philosophers that met monthly. One night, we got into a deep discussion about morals and ethics, and when I said that I was an atheist, one of my colleagues looked shocked and said, "Phil, c'mon. You're not an atheist! You have morals, you try to live an ethical life. You can't tell me that you don't believe in anything!" I immediately replied that being an atheist does not mean that one is without morals or that one believes in noth­ing. I believe in a lot of things: adequately funding schools and hospitals, fostering free speech, combating violence, protect­ing the environment, participating in philosophical discus­sions about the nature of morality, etc. As many know (unfor­tunately, my philosopher colleague being an exception), a sec­ular orientation doesn't mean that one is without morals or beliefs; being an atheist involves much more than (merely) denying the existence of God or gods. The term that most read­ily conveys this is secular humanist. A secular humanist begins with the rejection of spiritual explanations or theistic assertions but goes on to positively advocate an optimistic belief in the potential of humans to solve problems and make the world a better, safer, and more just place. A secular humanist is someone who believes in reason, science, and rational inquiry and is committed to democracy, tolerance, open debate, human rights, etc. That night, while discussing morals and ethics with my colleagues, I quickly went on to declare myself a secular humanist and ever since have proud­ly kept a copy of "The Affirmations of Humanism: A Statement of Principles" posted outside my office door.
So I do find the designation of "secular humanist" useful and appropriate now and then. On occasion. Like when I am among academics. Or when I am invited to be part of a panel discussion on religion and politics. But I don't like to use it most other times when people ask me what I am. To begin with, I find that secular humanism is more accurately a position or agen­da that I support. Secular humanism entails a set of values, ideas, and practices that I advocate, such as the right to pri­vacy, empowering the handicapped, nourishing compassion, celebrating the arts. There is a decidedly political dimension to secular humanism-with its emphasis on democracy, minority rights, environmentalism, women's rights, etc.-that I whole­heartedly embrace. However, when describing what I am, I want to capture something else, something slightly more per­sonal than the values, ideas, and practices that I support and advocate. I want to describe what I feel and experience. After all, when I first heard my eldest daughter's heartbeat in that small doctor's office in Eugene, Oregon, I didn't feel like a "sec­ular humanist." What I felt was tearful joy and wonder. When I was dancing on a hot spring day to an amazing band with a great horn section on the Porter Quad at UC Santa Cruz, I did­n't feel like a "secular humanist." I felt deeply alive, tingty, aroused, elated. When I found myself on a balcony with friends overlooking that dark lake in the Austrian mountains outside of Salzburg and a summer thunderstorm came bouldering through the valley while we sat in silence taking in the awesome anger of the thunder, I didn't feel like a "secular humanist." I felt simulta­neously enraptured and ephemeral. In short, when I think of the most important, memorable, and meaningful moments of my life-moments that define who I am and give me my deepest sense of self-I find that the title of "secular humanist" leaves a bit to be desired.
Yes, I am an atheist. Yes, I am an agnostic-at least the ver­sion that suspects that there may be limits to human knowl­edge. Yes, I support and advocate the sane and noble goals of secular humanism. But I am something more. I am often full of a profound feeling. And the word that comes closest to describ­ing that profound feeling is awe.

AWEISM
Aweism begins, obviously, with awe.
I am often in a state of awe. Granted, this isn't a perpetual state of being. I don't constantly walk around with my mouth wide open, my jaw slack, and my eyes brimming with tears of wonder and elation. My heart isn't constantly expanding nor is my spine perpetually tingling. However, I do regularly experi­ence awe. How often? Can't say for sure. Sometimes it comes from being in nature; sometimes it comes from interacting with people; sometimes it comes from drinking beer in Scot­land, reading Tarjei Vesaas, listening to Nick Drake, walking along the Kattegat Sea, or picking up my kids from school. Sometimes it comes from contemplating existential mysteries. Both the mundane as well as the profound can, at random times, stimulate a feeling of awe. But whatever the source, it is a feeling that constitutes an integral part of my life experience and is a central pillar of my identity. And while I don't feel awe all the time, I do feel it regularly enough. It is a feeling I both cherish and enjoy. And it definitely constitutes a significant part of my perspective on-or orientation to-life and living. Hence, I would like to acknowledge it, name it, and apply it to myself when asked, "What are you?"
Aweism is the belief that existence is ultimately a beautiful mystery, that being alive is a wellspring of wonder, and that the deepest questions of life, death, time, and space are so power­ful as to inspire deep feelings of joy, poignancy, and sublime awe. To be an aweist is to be an atheist and/or an agnostic and/or a secular humanist-and then some. An aweist is some­one who admits that existing is wonderfully mysterious and that life is a profound experience. To be an aweist is-in the words of Paul Kurtz-to embrace and experience "joyful exu­berance" sans theistic assumptions. Aweists suspect that no one will ever know why we are here or how the universe came into being, and this renders us weak in the knees while simul­taneously spurring us on to dance. As Einstein said, pondering mystery has an emotional aspect that is centrally captured by the term aweist in a way that is absent from other common secular designations, such as "freethinker" or "skeptic."
Is a new term really necessary? While some might suggest that we don't need yet another label within the secular or humanist umbrella, I disagree. When we consider labels, desig­nations, and distinctly named perspectives among religious people, we face an enormous array of diverse terminology. There are literally hundreds of words to describe the religious: pious, person of faith, evangelical, orthodox, mainline Christian, pagan, neo-pagan, Lutheran, spiritual, reformed, believer, Sunni, fundamentalist, deist, Buddhist, devout, cafeteria Cath­olic, saved, Methodist, charismatic, Bible-believer, seeker-and so on, ad (almost) infinitum. And this is the way it should be; with billions of people claiming to be religious, surely there will be a vast array of labels and designations, each with its own subtle, subjective uniqueness. And yet, when we consider the labels and self-designations available to secular folk, we can count them on one or two hands. This is strange, for just as there is an impressive degree of diversity of perspectives or ori­entations within the religious segment of humanity, so too is there among the secular segment of humanity, which by my best estimate entails some 500 to 750 million individuals worldwide. That's a lot of people. Surely our secularity manifests itself in more ways than one-or ten. We should not shy away from articulating the various shades of secularity that we may expe­rience, for it is important, to others as well as to ourselves, to accurately describe the numerous ways in which one can be godless and to name the multiple approaches to life that can be found within the secular worldview.
Richard Dawkins, in his many writings and public discus­sions of atheism and secular humanism, often points out that many nonreligious people still recognize the transcendent wonder of existence, marvel at life, or feel a profound rever­ence for the cosmos. A term that captures this common and yet under-articulated orientation is aweism.

IS AWEISM A FORM OF SPRITUALITY?
Many people have suggested to me that my orientation of aweism is actually a form of mysticism or spirituality. I don't think it is. While it may smell like mysticism or spirituality, I still insist that being an aweist remains a decidedly secular orientation. I say this for the following reasons: first, when I expe­rience a deep sense of awe, I don't have a need to explain or interpret that feeling. I simply enjoy it. My various experiences of awe don't convince me that there is some supernatural force permeating the universe that momentarily flows through my being. I don't experience awe and see it as a sign that a tran­scendent being or mystical energy is behind every thing and every event. I don't occasionally feel deep wonder or poignan­cy and then utilize that feeling as some sort of evidence for or proof of God, spirits, or past lives. A mystic or spiritual person will do just that: seek out or interpret feelings or experiences of wonder, awe, and the sense of rapturous mystery as evidence of there being something more, something else, something holy out there. But an aweist makes no such leap of faith. An aweist just feels awe from time to time, appreciates it, owns it, relish­es it, and then carries on-without any supernatural, cosmic, karmic, or otherworldly baggage.
My awe stops there: at awe. I make no attempt to identify the source of my feelings of awe, and furthermore, I am per­fectly content to explain my occasional sense of deep wonder or happiness or poignant joy in strictly naturalistic, neurological, or psychological terms. The source, in fact, is irrelevant to me. The awe is what I care about, and it is that feeling of awe that I consider a deeply important part of my secular personality.
Sven-Eric Liedman, a Swedish professor of intellectual his­tory, has suggested that "religion paints the world in bright colors" while atheism, being a negation of these bright colors, "often appears to be tedious and monotonous." But Liedman notes that this is problematic, for most nonreligious people do indeed still paint and see the world in bright colors. Our lack of theism does not render this world any less wondrous, lush, mystifying, or amazing. Our freethinking secular orientation does not mean that we live a cold, colorless existence devoid of aesthetic inspiration or existential feeling. Quite the contrary. One need not have Jesus or Muhammad or God to feel and experience awe. One just needs life.


Phil Zuckerman is an associate professor of sociology at Pitzer College. His latest book is Society without God (New York University Press, 2008)

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Tags: Agnosticism, Atheism, Aweism, Humanism, Secular

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Comment by jrfrog on November 19, 2009 at 10:25am
The Wonderism Group sounds great. I'll see you there.
Comment by Wonderist on November 19, 2009 at 3:41am
Fred and I started a group on Wonderism to continue our discussion. Anyone interested is welcome to join and participate.
Comment by Wonderist on November 17, 2009 at 6:26am
"What you name foundationist I named mediatist some weeks ago not knowing about your take on it. To mediate is find a common ground and to negotiate for a max outcome that both groups can agree upon to be satisfied to achieve."

Interesting. By the way, I know of at least two other people who also independently came up with similar ideas named 'foundationism'. You chose a different name, but it shows that there's something to these ideas if different people come up with them independently. My original inspiration for the name came from the obvious metaphor of a foundation on which to build, but also from Isaac Asimov's Foundation novels, and Straczynski's Babylon 5. The idea is not exactly theirs (similar, but different in both cases), but the name was heavily inspired by them. I like the fact that other people have come up with similar ideas and names. That way, I feel like I'm just assembling the existing pieces of a puzzle, and not inventing the whole puzzle from scratch. The fact that you also came up with a similar idea lends weight to it, I think.

Another 'by the way': The way in which you are constantly searching for simpler and more accurate and more descriptive words to apply to specific concepts is *also* something that I do constantly. I consider this a core idea of foundationism, i.e. to find a foundation of concepts and vocabulary to accurately communicate a specific concept with a single word. When you can identify a key difference or a key concept, and name it with a single word, it is like a building block. E.g. First you start with aweism, then on that foundation you build wonderism, then on that foundation you build pragmatism, etc. etc. Each single word is a single step in the construction process.

It becomes not just a way of communicating from person to person, but also a way of conceptualizing in your mind. When I imagine something from a foundationist perspective, I often imagine a tree, with the trunk as the first concept, and on top of that are different branches built from that concept, and from each of those branches, smaller branches, etc. If you keep working at your concepts, trying to lower each concept as low as it will go down toward the foundation/trunk, then eventually you will end up with a very sturdy conceptual framework, with a strong sturdy trunk, like wonderism, and few, but sturdy branches, like pragmatism.

You can apply this idea not just in your overall philosophy, but also in any specific domain of interest. For instance, you could start looking at your concepts of personal relationships, and identifying the various concepts, like person, love, family, child, parent, friend, etc. And then you try to say, "What is the foundation of these concepts?" Whatever you come up with, you don't have to adopt it as a dogmatic truth, but just the exercise alone will strengthen your conceptual understanding and improve your communication.

"You and I have to disagree on Kurzweil. I am happy that you are skeptical too but I am even more skeptical than you are on this TransHumanist thing."

Fair enough.

"Hey the owner of AtheistNexus likes awe and wonder too."

I'm not surprised. He's in good company.

I think there are a great many people who are 95% of the way to wonderism, but simply don't call themselves wonderists. I have seen so many different people who express things very close to the basic idea. I call the ones I'm sure about 'honorary wonderists' (Carl Sagan would be the best example; since he's no longer alive, I wouldn't presume to label him a wonderist, but I can say that I consider him an honorary wonderist). If they choose to reject the word once they hear it, no problem. The word only means that we share the same basic ideals, even if they don't like the name. As I said in the email I sent you, I consider wonderism as a generic name for a philosophy, like how pragmatism is a generic name. The name itself is not so important, although I think it's a good name. It's the basic concept which defines it. Whether someone likes the name or not, if their philosophy is significantly founded on wonder, I'll probably consider them an honorary wonderist.
Comment by Wonderist on November 16, 2009 at 11:50pm
Fred,

"Should we not make Aweism and Wonderism into Open Source "Way of Life Philosophies"?

That way they hopefully would allow many new contributers. "

Again, you hit on an important, and rather deep topic. These are things I've thought about for a long time but have not really expressed to other people until you asked these questions.

I have another idea, which is even more simple and basic than wonderism. The idea of wonderism (as I first imagined it) was to connect my own personal philosophy with the common threads that I saw in various people, such as Carl Sagan, Richard Dawkins, Albert Einstein, Douglas Adams, etc. There are so many different people that it's hard to even make a short list without looking like I'm just trying to gain credibility by association. It is not about the people, but about the shared philosophy.

However, there are now, and will almost certainly always be, people who are not wonderists, and don't want to be wonderists, and who disagree deeply with wonderism. But at the same time, these people may very well be reasonable, rational, kind, positive, intelligent, robust people.

So, how can we make a bigger tent to include these people, even though we disagree on some deep issues? The important thing to note is that even though we disagree, we are civil and respectful of each other. We are willing to disagree amicably. We can disagree and remain friendly and cooperative.

So, how do people who disagree manage to nevertheless cooperate for a common good?

This question, and the answer to it, are the purpose of the minimalist philosophy I call 'foundationism'. Foundationism is actually more of a core set of principles than a full-blown philosophy. It is 'the minimum foundation of principles we must agree upon in order to peacefully resolve conflict'.

The idea is that any reasonable person on Earth should be able to voluntarily adopt foundationist principles as the basis for discourse. You could be a foundationist wonderist, foundationist existentialist, foundationist Marxist, foundationist Objectivist, foundationist Christian, foundationist Jew, foundationist Hindu, foundationist Muslim, or whatever philosophy or religion you could think of. However, you couldn't be a foundationist Marxist who believes in violent revolution, because violent revolution violates a foundationist principle to seek conflict resolution without violence.

There's more to this idea, but for now I'll leave it at that.

The relevant thing to your comment is that, with the idea of foundationism, there is the question of, 'how do you resolve conflicts within or between similar philosophies?' So, you might have a wonderist or aweist who believes in mostly-wonderism-plus-X, and another who believes in mostly-wonderism-without-X, or mostly-wonderism-plus-Y (where X and Y are mutually exclusive). In such cases, the ideas of 'open source' are very useful. You could develop similar-but-different philosophies as 'branches' from a common 'base'. This is one of the core ideas of foundationism.

Imagine a tree, with a single trunk and many branches. If the trunk is 'wonderism', then my branch might be 'wonderism 1.0' and your branch might be 'fred's wonderism'. The point is that two people, or two groups, can each keep their own favoured branch, while sharing a common base, or 'foundation'. When engaging in discussions, it is useful to try to identify a common foundation between yourself and the other person. This is often called 'common ground'. Once you have established a basis for common ground, the discussion can proceed, with the goal of 'raising' the level of common agreement, and therefore building greater and greater common ground.

This is why I say that foundationism is a 'minimax philosophy'. First you try to establish communication by finding the minimum common/shared principles of cooperative communication, and the minimum set of assumptions and beliefs to agree upon. And then you try to build up from there, to maximize the greatest amount of agreement between both parties, up to the limit at which one side or the other is not willing to agree any further.

For example, if I'm engaging in a discussion with a Christian, he will say, "I believe in Jesus, and the Bible is my source of truth," and I will say, "I reject Jesus' divinity, and use the scientific method and evidence to establish truth." If we stay at that position, then no productive communication can occur, and neither side will budge an inch.

But if I say, "Well, maybe we don't agree on those things, but maybe we can at least establish a foundation of agreement, then we can build from there. Do you agree with basic physics, like Newton's Laws, etc.?" And the Christian might have taken a physics course, and so replies, "Well, yes. I agree with basic physics." And so I can continue to find common ground by exploring the ideas of evidence, theory, and prediction, and on that basis, we can establish something like "The scientific method can reveal truths about the physical world."

The first step is to minimize the assumptions and barriers by simplifying and reducing the level of conversation to more basic concepts. The second step is to maximize agreement from that basic foundation. Minimize then maximize. Thus 'minimax philosophy'.

Using this idea, it should be possible for us to have an 'open source' wonderism without sacrificing our individual different beliefs. We should be able to maximize potential contributions from other people, without watering down our philosophy so much that it becomes impotent. Also, we can avoid the tendency for groups to get stuck in 'groupthink' or to form exclusionary 'cliques'. By constantly applying the ideas of foundationism, you can keep inter-group communication and cooperation going strong and healthy.

So, to finally answer your question: Yes. ;-)

(Now you see why I couldn't respond last week, when I was too busy at work.)
Comment by Wonderist on November 16, 2009 at 11:04pm
Fred,

"They are way too into Scifi dreams. Downloading our brain or the content of our brain seems far out to me. In current level of understanding it is not a realistic hope at all."

Many transhumanists are 'dreaming' too much. However, I would recommend reading Ray Kurzweil's book The Singularity is Near. Not everything he talks about is so crazy. I think he's too optimistic, but I don't think his basic idea is that bad.

As for 'uploading' our minds, if we develop a sufficiently complete model of the function of neurons, and a sufficiently detailed brain scanning technology, then simulating the function of a human brain does not seem 'unrealistic' to me. It is only a question of technology, and how efficiently you can get it to run. Again, I think Kurzweil is too optimistic, but I don't think the idea is a bad one.

"Wonderism is good in that it include the curiosity that leads to natural science and psychology and awareness of social structures and hierarchies and political power games and so on."

Exactly. Aweism can lead to blissing out. But wonder is that itch that you have to scratch: Is this really the complete solution? Couldn't there be something better?

Staring at a flame can inspire awe. It takes wonder for you to want to figure out "What is the flame made of?"

"I have to test Aweism and Wonderism on him. I guess he just say Bull Shit. He is a Mechanic and Sailor type of hands on person. One do things practically or maybe play Bass in a Jazz band or sing Kareokee something."

Funny you should mention it. One of my favourite fun things to do is sing karaoke. I'm not great, but better than average, maybe.

Wonder can be a very practical thing. One meaning of 'wonder' is the noun, such as 'he built a great wonder'. Mechanics must be able to use their imaginations to 'see' the working parts of a car in his mind and 'imagine' where a problem might be occurring. When he finishes fixing something, he gets a good feeling of accomplishment to see his hard work create (or repair) a wondrous, functioning machine. "I did that." "Look at that beauty go!" That is totally a sense of wonder, and it doesn't require study of books or science, or what have you.

Even a simple farmer can enjoy a sense of wonder to see his hard work turn into a bountiful crop which will feed many times more people than just the farmer and his family. That's an amazing thing!

Everybody has a deep connection with wonder. It is not some abstract castle-in-the-sky notion. So-called 'religious' experience is almost always synonymous with wonder. Look how many people are religious! They have simply been duped into believing that this natural feeling of wonder is somehow supernatural, inspired by a 'god'.

"So what could make elderly to care about each other? How could one make Car owners to travel together. Everybody wants their own big car. None want to be dependent on others.

Very resource demanding such individualism. "

This is one of the big challenges we face. Complacency, apathy, egotism, consumptionism.

I believe that in many many cases, these stem from the killing of the natural childhood propensity for wonder. Often, the wonder has been so beaten out of kids, usually in school, that they have 'given up'. "This is just life. Childhood is over. That feeling of wonder is gone, and is never coming back, except maybe at church or in my immediate-family life with my own children."

It is not easy, but I believe the answer to this problem is in re-igniting that sense of wonder at the natural world and the universe, and also the hope for the future. I say again, it is not easy. People build walls around themselves, and talk of 'wonder' will seem 'childish' to them, or the talk of a 'dreamer'.

I think, ultimately, reaching these kinds of people will require more than written or spoken words. It will require compelling stories, in the form of various art such as movies, music, artwork, popular novels, comedy, etc. Part of the idea of the philosophy of wonderism is popularization. Popularization of science, philosophy, the universe, life, society, culture, etc.

All it really takes is to do the same kind of art you might normally do, except do it with a spirit of wonderism. People will catch on. I have seen it work. Take a look at this video, or this one. These are very popular, but they express a wonderist message.
Comment by Wonderist on November 7, 2009 at 3:32pm
Fred, you are hitting on a big reason why I choose wonder. For me, it is not enough to live complacently, content with the way things are. I need a 'vision for the future'. This is why I've always been fascinated by science and science-fiction.

Many philosophies or religions strive to help people become comfortable with the way things are. Buddhism, Taoism, moderate and liberal Christianity, existentialism, etc.

Sure, they may promote doing 'good works', but the purpose of that is more to give yourself a good feeling, than it is to develop something for the future. Indeed, some forms of Buddhism and New Age thought teach you not to think about the past or the future, as this is where 'suffering' comes from.

I am against philosophies which are complacent, which teach us to be happy no matter what the situation. Of course we all want happiness, but at what cost? Is there never a time to be angry or sad at the state of the world?

Philosophies which teach to focus on feeling good all the time, such as Joseph Cambell's motto to "follow your bliss", are what I call "blissing out". To bliss out is to focus so much on yourself and your own feelings that nothing really matters anymore. In my opinion, you might as well overdose on heroin or something. Happiness or bliss is not everything. Wonder drives me on beyond this state of complacency. I want to learn more, discover more, and build something greater.

So, part of my philosophy has been developing a vision of the future, something to strive for. I have several stories in my head which eventually I want to write, which represent not exactly "the future as I predict it", but instead "the future as it could be if we chose to pursue it". I don't believe in utopia, but I also think that it is possible for us to avoid dystopia. There are possible futures worth struggling to achieve.

There's a little bit of individualism in it, but nothing like Objectivism. There is some socialism, but nothing like Communism. There are themes from Transhumanism, but tempered by what is realistic; I don't believe nanomachines are going to solve all of our problems, nor that machine consciousness implies immortality. I deal with dangers and risks, and not just hopes and desires.

My template for a story about wonderism is: Given what we know about science today, and given some reasonable assumptions about what we might discover, how might the future look if we manage to avoid destroying ourselves in war or environmental catastrophe? What will it take for us to avoid that catastrophe? How might we convince others to struggle with us to bring about a positive future, or to avoid a negative future.

That's another reason why I think wonder is more important to me than just awe. It seeks a positive future, rather than sitting back in complacency, and blissing out. Or worse, embracing terror and actively seeking self-destruction.
Comment by jrfrog on November 7, 2009 at 1:52pm
Dear Fred and Wonderist—I most certainly don’t mind you using this blog to share your stimulating comments. That’s why I posted ‘Aweism’ in the first place. I only wonder why it took over a month to get any comments at all! From reading the comments of both of you, I think we all share the same goal. That goal is to frame our atheism in an affirmative fashion without resorting to mysticism.

"The difference between the right word and the almost-right word is like the difference between lightning and the lightning bug." -- Mark Twain

Mr. Clemens notwithstanding, I think we spend too much energy trying to find just the right word to express our creed. I like Aweism, you like Wonderism and of course one could go on and on. I have problems with awe because it does have roots in fear and dread. But wonder has connotations with miracles. However both are positive expressions of the beauty of the unknown without resorting to a Supreme Being.

Fred, I agree with Wonderist, don’t sell yourself short. I can only imagine how poorly I would fare on a Swedish language blog because I would never do it! Wonderist, I hope your malady is resolved soon.

Please, let us continue this discussion. I am somewhat short on time at the present, so this is a brief comment. I hope to add more later and perhaps others will join us along the way.
Comment by Wonderist on November 7, 2009 at 12:23pm
Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Fred. I think you are more of a thinker than you give yourself credit for.

I hope jrfrog doesn't mind us continuing this discussion on his blog. Hi, jrfrog! Let us know if you want us to move it somewhere else. Thanks.

"I mean what now. Yes I know I can subscribe to your youtube channel and reach you through comments but how do we cooperate if that is something you could consider.

Could we set up a Group here at AtheistNexus that explore Wonderism using your text above? Linking to Youtube and so on.

I guess you want Wonderism to be shared by all who like me look for such "philosophy"."

Well, that is quite a big problem for me. I have only recently learned about my ADHD, and up until now it has been a major road-block in my life with chronic procrastination, and being unable to finish projects I start. That is a big reason why I only have a few videos, and no organized writings on a website or blog. So, until I get treated for ADHD, it's not really going to be much more than scattered forum replies and blog comments. I'm good at responding to things, but not so good at starting and finishing things on my own. I'm seeing a doctor this month, so hopefully I'll be able to get an accurate diagnosis and treatment.

But, assuming I can get a handle on procrastination, then yes, I would love to start something more organized and community building. Perhaps a group here on Atheist Nexus, or a blog, or a separate website.

I have several ideas for essays and stories to explore the ideas I've developed over the past few years. In fact, I do have quite a bit of writing saved up, but it is stream-of-consciousness, and not readable prose.

I don't think I'm in a good position to start any group or organization right now. Maybe in a couple months, if things work out.

If you would like to start something yourself, feel free to do so, and I will join in to participate. But I can't commit to running it myself just yet.

"Do you use the word philosophy now in same way a Buddhist would use it. Life Practice philosophy, A kind of Western Dharma teaching. Do you see yourself as a Teacher of Wonderism? or are you like me an apprenticeist/pupil sorry spelling. Like a Newbie at Wonderism."

I see wonderism as a 'way of life'. It is a little bit more than a simple philosophy, but quite a bit less than a religion. I think the best word for now is just 'philosophy', in the sense of 'love of wisdom'. But 'way of life' is more accurate. I am cautious to adopt Buddhist or Taoist language, because I do not want people to get the impression that there is anything mystical, or New Age, or anything like that about it. The best representative so far that I have come up with is Carl Sagan. It is deeply tied to science. It is like adopting a scientific worldview, and making it a part of your life. So, there is no 'magic', but there is 'imagination'. No 'mysticism', but there is 'mystery'. No 'gurus', but there are 'heroes' (i.e. people or fictional characters we might personally choose to admire or emulate).

I would only think of myself as a 'teacher of wonderism' in the sense that one might be a 'mathematics teacher' or a 'history teacher', or a 'science teacher'. It doesn't mean I have any sort of artificial authority. It just means that I teach what I know. I think anybody could figure out wonderism on their own, and then go on to teach what they learned. I already know of at least two other people who have either used the word 'wonderism' or come up with essentially the same core concepts, and they did so independently. I had already developed my own ideas before I found these other people. And it turns out our ideas were very similar. In fact, you yourself probably already had many of these ideas, and the reason you found me is because you were looking for someone else who had similar ideas to yourself. Even Phil Zuckerman above, and jrfrog himself, are on the same path that we are on. I didn't teach any of you. The only difference, maybe, is that I might have more strongly embraced the word 'wonder' to see where it takes me. I may have also spent more time trying to refine these concepts into simpler, more-intuitive examples and metaphors, so that they are easier to communicate to other people.

"Like you me too wanted to go one step further than Aweism but I know I am not a thinker, I can guess from your text that you are much better than me at thinking but then now what?"

You are probably a better thinker than you are willing to admit. Do you like to spend time in your imagination? Thinking about ideas and concepts, and playing with them, imagining what they might mean, or where they might lead? Noticing things about the world, about people, about institutions such as schools, or governments, or religions? Reading about science and thinking about how scientific concepts help make sense of the world? These are things I do. You might have your own way of thinking.

Try writing. Maybe try poetry, or writing music or lyrics. Try getting into a conversation with someone and just say, "Hey, you know what? I have this idea I've been thinking about. Want to hear it?" Watch some Carl Sagan: http://www.hulu.com/cosmos . Read some good science fiction. Get into debates about religion, or pseudoscience, or other things that people believe.

"And another problem with videos. One need to be incredible good at spoken english to know what words you use. One time I guess it was wondering allowed 4 I had to repeat one word 5 times to get if you say topic or project. I guess it is project."

I'm sorry. I'll try to speak more clearly in the future.

"And you mention some guy that you find interesting to listen to. Greg ***** what is his last name? Mendino? Endendi? I have no idea."

Gary "inmendham". His original 'inmendham' account has been suspended on YouTube. See http://www.youtube.com/user/DoNotGod or http://www.inmendham.com/dog/

He's not 'nice', but he has some interesting ideas, if you have the time to dig through his many videos.

"I am motivated to get to know your ideas about wonderism but the format is too demanding for my lack of attention skills."

Sorry to hear that. I will eventually have some essays collected. If you're interested, you might join the RRS forums at http://www.rationalresponders.com/view/super_tracker and you can start discussions, or join in existing discussions. If you use the Google-search feature of that site, you can find lots of interesting discussions about various topics that have occurred in the past. Again, some of the people on that site are not 'nice', but many discussions have been deep and thorough explorations of various topics. I usually follow the forums there, so if you post something, I will see it and respond.

"So written text works better for me or maybe the best would to make you a phone call. "

I don't do well on the phone. Would prefer not to.

"I guess that is what fails in atheist language. As atheists we tend to shun bridges. We use exclusivistic languages that say. If you fail to live up to our philosophical precisely defined way of seeing atheism then your not an atheist but something else and then you not one of us and we will do our utmost to ridicule your ideas. Something like that."

Definitions are important, but as long as both sides understand what the other means when they use a word, then communication can continue even if you don't exactly agree with the other person's definition. Some atheists are more open to other people's definitions. You might try listening to The Infidel Guy http://www.infidelguy.com/ or Atheist Experience http://www.atheist-experience.com/archive/index.php?full=0

"While if one use the word wonder as a bridge then potentially everybody could agree that "yes me have felt wonder too" and then go from there. Wonder creates curiosity on the world and how does one know what knowledge that works and what doesn't? Science and Occam helps us with that. Pragmatism as a tool to get to what works."

Exactly. One of the strengths of 'wonder' is that it is a universal human feeling. It destroys the 'argument from wonder' or 'argument from religious experience', which is the last refuge of religion today. "Well, I just have this wonderful feeling, therefore God exists." Doesn't work anymore. "I have that feeling too, and I don't believe in any gods, I just get it when I contemplate life, the universe, and everything."

"Here I get curious on your take on Sam Harris and his meditation that gives him personal experiences that tells him that we are one with the universe. So he started to go to Neuro Science at University and now work with fellow scientists using fMRI to see what happens in brain when one do meditation.

I support that he uses science to find out things. But I get the impression that he uses science to promote a biased view on reality, and here comes the pragmatism in."

I don't think he adds any mystical reality to his experiences. He just experiences a 'sense of oneness', but he doesn't go beyond that. What he does say is that he is open to these ideas of the mystics, but he doesn't actually say he buys into any of them. I think what he means is that a) Yes, these experiences do happen, and b) We should study them because they will likely tell us something about ourselves, instead of completely dismissing them as some atheists/rationalists tend to do. It doesn't mean that he accepts the mystical interpretations of what people think the experiences 'mean'.

I too have had feelings of oneness like that. Usually from some drug experience, but once or twice from meditation. I don't interpret it as supernatural in anyway. But I *have* had such experiences, so I don't completely discount them in others. I just tell them that I don't think their interpretation is valid. "So, you took a drug, which affects your brain, had this amazing experience, and therefore God exists? I think a more likely explanation is that the drug was the cause..."

"If it works for him to meditate and to have these personal experiences of being one with the universe then that lure or persuade him to think that there is some truth into that."

The 'truth' is simply that 'meditation allows you to have these experiences'. It doesn't go beyond that. There is no 'truth' that these experiences prove anything about a 'spiritual realm' or anything supernatural or whatever.

People can hallucinate. Hallucinations are real. But that doesn't make 'the thing that you hallucinated' real, it just makes the experience itself real. I once saw a 'ghost' when I woke up from a nap. I did actually 'see' something, but the something I 'saw' wasn't really there. It was simply a hypnogogic hallucination.

"That is not how I see it. It doesn't help much if it works for him because it could still be an interpretation that make bad predictions about reality. There is simply not possible to draw the conclusions he has drawn from his personal experiences. Pragmatism is something we all do but it gives us approximate answers that are not peer viewed. We wild guess just like he has done about us being one with the universe."

Peer review is itself a pragmatic method.

A lot of people mis-understand pragmatism because they think it stops at whatever your first guess is, or whatever your first-approximation is. But it doesn't. It applies to all things, first, second, third, etc. If your intuitive guesses alone give worse predictions that your intuitive guesses filtered by peer review, then intuition + peer review is more pragmatic than intuition alone. If intuition + peer review + experimentation gives better predictions than intuition + peer review, then the former is more pragmatic than the latter.

I think Sam Harris would agree with this, and I don't think he jumps to conclusions about what his meditation experiences mean. He is simply open to the ideas, rather than shutting them down without further investigation.
Comment by Wonderist on November 6, 2009 at 5:16pm
Taking a Step Beyond Awe

"My awe stops there: at awe."

This is why I did not call myself an aweist. I had considered it, but I knew that I could not simply stop at awe. I had to make a fundamental choice.

So, I prefer wonderism, and here's why.

Awe is our most basic experience of the world. As a baby, *everything* inspired awe in you. But there is an inherent duality to it. You can be drawn toward it, or repelled away from it. Let us call these orientations 'love' and 'fear'. Or, if you want to go all Greek, we can call them 'philos' and 'phobos'.

When you experience awe, it is always a mix of these two orientations. The thunderstorm terrifies you, but you stare out the window in fascination. The newborn baby brings tears of love to your eyes, but you also see the daunting responsibilities ahead of you.

The two forces, love and fear, compete. If they are balanced, that is simple awe, and you are held in your place. If the love wins out, you are drawn toward the awe. If the fear wins out, you flee from it.

This duality is expressed in the phrase 'mysterium tremendum et fascinans', which can be roughly translated, for my purposes here, as 'awe of terror and wonder'.

The question is, in your life, which of these will win out: The tremendum, or the fascinans? The terror, or the wonder?

I choose wonder. I base my philosophy on not just 'awe', but a certain kind of awe, the awe where the philos wins out over the phobos. I reject philosophies which are based on terror, where the phobos dominates the philos.

Now, this whole thing may seem a little hand-wavy, but the implications are actually quite straightforward. Philosophies based on terror include most religions, especially the fundamentalist, fire-and-brimstone, fear-of-God kind. That phrase, 'fear of God', is a huge red-flag that the philosophy is going to be based, ultimately, on terror.

The problem with mere aweism is that it does not make this distinction or choice. Terror is a legitimate kind of awe. All humans experience it. But that doesn't mean we need embrace it as defining our philosophy. So, can an aweist legitimately criticize a religion based on terror? I don't think so. But a wonderist can. And can do so clearly and forcefully, without hypocrisy.

Wonderism is one step beyond simple aweism.

Wonder has multiple interesting meanings. The first is the experience of wonder, which instigates us to be drawn toward awe and the unknown. The second is the verb 'to wonder', which means both to ask a question, and to imagine possibilities. The third is the noun 'a wonder', with the implication that if we apply our knowledge, we can achieve great wonders.

Though wonder is an emotion, it plays a crucial role in the generation and gathering of knowledge. It is the impetus to learn. Without wonder, without curiosity, there would be no science. Wonderism is a philosophy strongly allied with science. Think of Carl Sagan, and you should get the general idea.

Awe is important, but it is only a starting point.

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