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Old 14th September 2020, 11:05 PM   #1
Robin
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Awe, Wonder and Suchlike

When I was younger I used to listen to certain science popularisers going on and on about the size of the Universe in deep portentious tones.

And I would think "OK, I get it. It's big. So what? Why wouldn't it be big?"

And sometimes they would suggest that it puts all of our problems in perspective, and then I think "No, my problems are still the same as they were".

After all I didn't previously think "My problems are big because the Universe is so small".

The bigness of problems and the bigness of the Universe is using "big" in two different senses, so it is just an equivocation to suggest that one thing gives perspective on the other.

Of course there are lots of wonderful feelings that come from, for example, lying on your back in the desert and seeing all those stars that are invisible in the city.

But I often think that maybe I am lacking in something that others feel when seeing such things, lacking in a sense of awe and wonder at things like the size of the Universe.

I was thinking of this in relation to an essay I was reading from a philosopher suggesting that awe and wonder were grounds for believing in God (but not necessarily a personal God).

Quote:
God, throughout western history, has been considered that thing in the unknown which instills wonder in us. It is the thing that is beautiful, epistemically beyond us, and awesome. If we agree that the experience of a passion alone can provide overriding confidence in a belief, then when one feels wonder, when he looks into the unknown, I see no reason why this couldn’t be such a case. Why isn’t that passion alone sufficient to ground overriding confidence in the existence of something majestic in the mysteries of the cosmos?
And maybe my "awe and wonder" capacity isn't powerful enough to find this plausible.

On the other hand maybe it is just an equivocation like the "bigness" of problems and the "bigness" of the Universe.

If I find the night sky in the desert then it is proof that something is majestic (at least to me), the night sky in the desert.

If I wonder about something then it is proof that there is something that I don't know about, but I have no idea why I should overload the stuff that I don't know about with the name "God".

Again when I say "I am filled with wonder" and when I say "I wonder what is in this box?" then surely I am also using "wonder" in different senses.

Anyway, I would welcome comments.

https://theelectricagora.com/2020/09...elief-part-ii/
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Last edited by Robin; 14th September 2020 at 11:16 PM.
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Old 15th September 2020, 02:12 PM   #2
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An interesting perspective Robin.

I imagine it is very much a modern trait to feel wonder about the bigness, and even smallness, of many things. These things were unknown to our ancestors, who saw our World as the centre of everything, with the stars as mere decorations adorning our skies.

I confess to a feeling of wonder however (about bigness and smallness), although I can't see it diminishing my feeling about self. If I am not here to observe and appreciate this wonder, then it may as well not exist.
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Old 15th September 2020, 06:36 PM   #3
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The psychological term for what you describe is "elevation."

Not a particularly inspiring term, but that's psychologists for you.
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Old 15th September 2020, 06:42 PM   #4
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The paper you are reading is about right for many people I know, the wondrous things they cannot grasp how must be god.

They simply will not accept " I don't know " on what they find difficult to understand.

As for fancy language to describe how insignificant one is compared to a universe or how miniscule something can be, it really doesn't affect most of us in daily life.
Protons and electrons probably had everything to do with what I did all day but nobody worries about it at that level where I work.
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Old 15th September 2020, 06:50 PM   #5
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It always seemed to me that the universe, as revealed by science, is so vastly more awesome, vast, fascinating, and humbling than the petty gods and stories the priests came up with.

It's a shame we've devalued that wonderful word 'awesome' so much from its original meaning. We have need of it.
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Old 16th September 2020, 12:39 AM   #6
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Originally Posted by Robin View Post
Of course there are lots of wonderful feelings that come from, for example, lying on your back in the desert and seeing all those stars that are invisible in the city.

But I often think that maybe I am lacking in something that others feel when seeing such things, lacking in a sense of awe and wonder at things like the size of the Universe.
There is also the term "numinous" created about 100 years ago, whereby the awe being felt is akin to a spiritual experience:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Numinous
Numinous (/ˈnjuːmɪnəs/) is a concept derived from the Latin numen meaning "arousing spiritual or religious emotion; mysterious or awe-inspiring". The term was popularized by the German theologian Rudolf Otto in his influential 1917 German book Das Heilige, which appeared in English as The Idea of the Holy in 1923...

He explains the numinous as a "non-rational, non-sensory experience or feeling whose primary and immediate object is outside the self". This mental state "presents itself as ganz Andere, wholly other, a condition absolutely sui generis and incomparable whereby the human being finds himself utterly abashed."

Last edited by GDon; 16th September 2020 at 12:41 AM.
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Old 16th September 2020, 03:34 AM   #7
smartcooky
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Originally Posted by Robin View Post
Of course there are lots of wonderful feelings that come from, for example, lying on your back in the desert and seeing all those stars that are invisible in the city.

But I often think that maybe I am lacking in something that others feel when seeing such things, lacking in a sense of awe and wonder at things like the size of the Universe.

I was thinking of this in relation to an essay I was reading from a philosopher suggesting that awe and wonder were grounds for believing in God (but not necessarily a personal God).
I am fortunate that I live on the outskirts of a small provincial town, so very little light pollution..... The Pleiades, Omega Centauri and the dust clouds of the Sagittarius Arm are naked eye objects for me, even with my eyesight.

When I sit outside at night and see those things among a crowd of stars, I see no place for God.

When I look at images such as Voyager 1's "Pale Blue Dot" image, or "Hubble's Ultra Deep Field" I am awestruck. I see no need for God.

When I think about the juxtaposition of those two images and what they represent - the former, that everyone anyone has ever known or heard of lives or lived on that dot, and the latter, that every one of those 10,000+ dots is a galaxy of billions of pale blue dots, the realisation of how small and insignificant we are hits me - I feel no desire to believe in God.
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Last edited by smartcooky; 16th September 2020 at 04:12 AM.
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Old 16th September 2020, 05:18 AM   #8
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Actually, Robin sounds like a pretty well adjusted individual.

As for that Electric Agora site - anyone who feels the need to emphasise words they presumably think are important should be treated with the deepest skepticism.
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Old 16th September 2020, 10:50 AM   #9
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Just a heads-up that the OP probably won't be back to discuss this - taking a break from the forum. link
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Old 16th September 2020, 11:53 AM   #10
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The world was so big and I was so small, your voice was always the loudest of all...

Any excuse to quote some Miracle Legion lyrics.

Personally I do not need anything divine or "spiritual" (whatever the buggery bollocks that actually means) to feel awe or wonder: sitting at Inspiration Point looking over the Yosemite Valley worked well, as did a few points on the south rim of Grand Canyon, or watching a juvenile hobby hunt dragonflies over a reed bed at Cley, or a peregrine falcon stooping to take an oystercatcher in Pembrokeshire, or suddenly coming across a murmuration of starlings at Hen Reed Beds near Southwold, or running along a beach in Wester Ross keeping pace with a group of razorbills swimming under water...or...or...I have a long list mostly involving geology or natural history (thinks - is this why I did an environmental science degree all those years ago?).
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Old 16th September 2020, 12:38 PM   #11
dann
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Originally Posted by smartcooky View Post
When I think about the juxtaposition of those two images and what they represent - the former, that everyone anyone has ever known or heard of lives or lived on that dot, and the latter, that every one of those 10,000+ dots is a galaxy of billions of pale blue dots, the realisation of how small and insignificant we are hits me - I feel no desire to believe in God.

Now, I don't know how tall or short you are, but standing next to a mountain will make you look small in comparison. You don't really need to whole ******* universe to do that, do you? And what's up with this fixation on being insignificant? If that is the essence of what you get out of cosmology, you might as well believe in the almighty God, whose alleged omnipotence also only serves the purpose of making people seem insignificant.

I don't think that the billions of pale blue dots make you insignificant. The only thing that might make me think of you as insignificant is the banality of that idea. You are usually sharper than that.

I'm with Robin on this one:

Originally Posted by Robin View Post
When I was younger I used to listen to certain science popularisers going on and on about the size of the Universe in deep portentious tones.

And I would think "OK, I get it. It's big. So what? Why wouldn't it be big?"

And sometimes they would suggest that it puts all of our problems in perspective, and then I think "No, my problems are still the same as they were".

After all I didn't previously think "My problems are big because the Universe is so small".

I am reminded of an old Woody Allen comic where he is alone outside at night, thinking something like this: 'Whenever I consider the millions of stars in the Milky Way, and the billions of galaxies, and the trillions of planets orbiting those stars etc., it occurs to me that I don't really give a damn about all that.'

I've tried to google it, but I couldn't find it.
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"The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness. The demand to give up the illusion about its condition is the demand to give up a condition which needs illusions." K. Marx
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Old 16th September 2020, 12:54 PM   #12
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Originally Posted by dann View Post
Now, I don't know how tall or short you are, but standing next to a mountain will make you look small in comparison.
Space is big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist's, but that's just peanuts to space.
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Old 16th September 2020, 02:42 PM   #13
dann
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Originally Posted by smartcooky View Post
Space is big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is.

Yes, I will.

Quote:
I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist's,

No, not where I live. It's about 200 meters.

Quote:
but that's just peanuts to space.

Not where I live. I can see space from here.
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"Stupidity renders itself invisible by assuming very large proportions. Completely unreasonable claims are irrefutable. Ni-en-leh pointed out that a philosopher might get into trouble by claiming that two times two makes five, but he does not risk much by claiming that two times two makes shoe polish." B. Brecht
"The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness. The demand to give up the illusion about its condition is the demand to give up a condition which needs illusions." K. Marx
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Old 16th September 2020, 05:39 PM   #14
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Okay here's a few of my favorite "Break the perspective" moments.
__________________________________________________ _________________

https://www.spacetelescope.org/images/opo9625a/

The page shows the 100,000th picture taken by the Hubble Space Telescope.

The bright, star like object on the right is, indeed, a star, one that's a few hundred light years from earth.

The bright object on the left, the one was the same apparent magnitude, is a quasar... 9 billion light years away.

__________________________________________________ _____________

As measured by the absolute value of photons, a large Supernova half a light year away is as bright as hydrogen bomb detonated directly on the surface of your eyeball.
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Old 16th September 2020, 07:35 PM   #15
smartcooky
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Originally Posted by dann View Post
No, not where I live. It's about 200 meters.
Ah, I see, you're from Denmark - you didn't get the reference

My bad... Perhaps this will help to explain...

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I AGREE
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Old 17th September 2020, 12:41 AM   #16
dann
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You're right, I didn't. But not because of my location and not because I'm not familiar with the reference - but apparently not to the extent where I recognizet it immediately.
Having read all of Douglas Adams' novels, I never became a huge fan, mainly because I think the Hitchhiker's Guide totally ripped off Venus on the Half-Shell by 'Kilgore Trout', which also pokes fun at pseudo-philosophical ideas meant to induce awe, wonder and suchlike: Why are we born only to suffer and die?
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"Stupidity renders itself invisible by assuming very large proportions. Completely unreasonable claims are irrefutable. Ni-en-leh pointed out that a philosopher might get into trouble by claiming that two times two makes five, but he does not risk much by claiming that two times two makes shoe polish." B. Brecht
"The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness. The demand to give up the illusion about its condition is the demand to give up a condition which needs illusions." K. Marx
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Old 17th September 2020, 01:12 AM   #17
smartcooky
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Originally Posted by dann View Post
You're right, I didn't. But not because of my location and not because I'm not familiar with the reference - but apparently not to the extent where I recognizet it immediately.
Having read all of Douglas Adams' novels, I never became a huge fan, mainly because I think the Hitchhiker's Guide totally ripped off Venus on the Half-Shell by 'Kilgore Trout', which also pokes fun at pseudo-philosophical ideas meant to induce awe, wonder and suchlike: Why are we born only to suffer and die?
Because 42!
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Old 17th September 2020, 02:25 AM   #18
dann
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Not according to Trout/Farmer:
Simon rose from the chair and cried, "But why? Why? Why? Didn't It (the Creator) know what agony and sorrow it would cause sextillions upon sextillions of living beings to suffer? All for nothing?"
"Yes," Bingo (the oldest living E.T.) said.
"But why?" Simon Wagstaff shouted. "Why? Why? Why?"
Old Bingo drank a glass of beer, belched, and spoke.
"Why not?"
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"Stupidity renders itself invisible by assuming very large proportions. Completely unreasonable claims are irrefutable. Ni-en-leh pointed out that a philosopher might get into trouble by claiming that two times two makes five, but he does not risk much by claiming that two times two makes shoe polish." B. Brecht
"The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness. The demand to give up the illusion about its condition is the demand to give up a condition which needs illusions." K. Marx
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Old 17th September 2020, 03:41 AM   #19
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Originally Posted by dann View Post
You're right, I didn't. But not because of my location and not because I'm not familiar with the reference - but apparently not to the extent where I recognizet it immediately.
Having read all of Douglas Adams' novels, I never became a huge fan, mainly because I think the Hitchhiker's Guide totally ripped off Venus on the Half-Shell by 'Kilgore Trout', which also pokes fun at pseudo-philosophical ideas meant to induce awe, wonder and suchlike: Why are we born only to suffer and die?
I have long thought that Adams also borrowed heavily from Stanislav Lem's The Cyberiad and Italo Calvino's Cosmicomics.
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