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Wonder is the Beginning of Knowledge

Wonder is the Beginning of Knowledge

3 minutes

A good education not only teaches fundamentals like reading, writing, and arithmetic and science, foreign languages, and literature but also develops certain habits of mind that transcend the particular subject being learned.

An educated mind that studies science, geometry or philosophy learns to think logically: all effects have causes; if A=B and C=B, then A=C; everything created—planets, animals, plants, and human beings have a God-given, fixed, inherent nature that directs their movements and inclines them to pursue an end for which they are intended by the design of their Maker.

An educated mind possesses the power of memory and retains important information, facts, dates, and laws. An educated mind exercises imagination, the faculty that makes present what is absent without the benefit of immediate sensory experience and projects the possible and foresees the future. An educated mind has acquired a love of learning that reflects the liveliness of intelligence—the ability to play with the mind in the same spontaneous, expansive way that persons play with the body in sports and dance. Playful, creative thinking takes various disparate pieces of knowledge and forms them into new combinations; it uses old ideas to discover new truths in the way a child uses old boxes to form trains and towers.

An educated mind also has an aptitude for contemplation—intellectual excellence at its highest. While logical thinking follows a sequence of orderly steps and memory requires repetition and will power and imagination expends the energy of play, contemplation is the docility of receiving truth rather than the spending of effort to gain knowledge. The Latin word intellectus captures this aspect of intuitive knowledge that comes all at once rather than in logical steps or many experiments which the word ratio designates.

Receptivity of the Soul

Contemplation is a form of looking inspired by wonder that moves a person to continue looking at a great work of art or to remain thinking about a great idea, divine miracle, or mystery.There is so much to see or know that one lingers to see more and to think more deeply. Contemplation requires silence and recollection, a receptivity that listens and lets others speak as it hears the voice of conscience, the whispering of the heart, and the Word of God. It marvels at the glory of the stars and the mountains, appreciates the cornucopia of the earth’s abundance, notices the beauty of a work of art, or is moved by the goodness of the human heart.

Contemplation is a way of knowing that involves the feelings and emotions as well as the mind. Classical music, great art, and beautiful poetry affect the heart, soul, and mind.

When the Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins writes in Pied Beauty, “Glory be to God for dappled things–/For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow; / For rose moles all in stipple upon trout that swim,” he marvels at the variety of colors and the multitude of combinations that adorn the blue sky with white clouds and the brown cow with white patches and the trout with rainbow tints. Looking above at the heavens, down on the earth, and below in the water, he contemplates the beauty of creation and the art of God that abounds in both the vastness of the heavens and in the smallness of a fish.

The same “pied beauty” of colorful variety and surprising mixtures marks the contours of land and the composition of human nature: “Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough/ And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.” The lay of the land resembles a patchwork quilt by its farms, groves, and pastures, and human beings in the diversity of their gifts and talents are just as motley as the pied earth and sky.

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All this color, all this abundance, and all this diversity amaze the beholder who sees God’s handiwork and signature everywhere: so many countless examples of God’s beauty evoke a sense of wonder at the copious, inexhaustible source of this plenty. As the poet’s senses are awakened, the heart uplifted, and the soul moved, the mind too is illuminated.

The Mind and Heart of the Artist

Wonder is the beginning of knowledge. Contemplative receiving with its openness to all that is leads to vision, the comprehension of a simple truth that explains all. All those dappled things seen and numbered everywhere lead to the mind’s discovery of a joyful discovery: “He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change. / Praise him.”

All effects resemble their causes. Works of art reflect the mind and heart of the artist. The beauty of creation everywhere reveals the same unmistakable style and handwriting. Only a loving, generous heavenly Father whose nature is Beauty, Truth, and Goodness itself could be so prolific as to provide such inexhaustible sources of infinite beauty without limit. This poetic knowledge proceeds from a contemplative habit of mind that does not calculate, use deductive logic, conduct experiments, or see with microscopes or telescopes.

Contemplation grasps the origin of things, the first principles, the eternal laws, and the hand of God but not in abstraction or by reason alone. The poet notices what is there and sees with his own eyes. He receives a glimpse of the truth as a gift rather than gains knowledge by way of Herculean effort. He is moved by wonder at what he sees and by all that he sees.

The wonder that moves his heart and soul also penetrates the depths of the mind and leads to a vision of the truth with clarity and simplicity: “Praise him.”

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About Dr. Mitchell Kalpakgian

Dr. Mitchell Kalpakgian
The son of Armenian immigrants, Dr. Kalpakgian has taught at Simpson College, Christendom College and Wyoming Catholic College. He has authored several books and written for many Catholic publications. Meet Dr. Kalpakgian | See his Books
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