Hermann Hesse on Wonder and the Proper Aim of Education
‘Wonder is where it starts, and though wonder is also where it ends, this is no futile path. Whether admiring a patch of moss, a crystal, flower, or golden beetle, a sky full of clouds, a sea with the serene, vast sigh of its swells, or a butterfly wing with its arrangement of crystalline ribs, contours, and the vibrant bezel of its edges, the diverse scripts and ornamentations of its markings, and the infinite, sweet, delightfully inspired transitions and shadings of its colors — whenever I experience part of nature, whether with my eyes or another of the five senses, whenever I feel drawn in, enchanted, opening myself momentarily to its existence and epiphanies, that very moment allows me to forget the avaricious, blind world of human need, and rather than thinking or issuing orders, rather than acquiring or exploiting, fighting or organizing, all I do in that moment is “wonder,” like Goethe, and not only does this wonderment establish my brotherhood with him, other poets, and sages, it also makes me a brother to those wondrous things I behold and experience as the living world: butterflies and moths, beetles, clouds, rivers and mountains, because while wandering down the path of wonder, I briefly escape the world of separation and enter the world of unity.’
But while we are born wakeful to wonder, our cultural conditioning and indoctrination – what we call our education – often schools us out of it. A century before scientists came to study the vitalizing psychology and physiology of enchantment, a century before our so-called liberal arts education had become the factory farming of the mind, Hesse laments:
‘Our universities fail to guide us down the easiest paths to wisdom… Rather than teaching a sense of awe, they teach the very opposite: counting and measuring over delight, sobriety over enchantment, a rigid hold on scattered individual parts over an affinity for the unified and whole. These are not schools of wisdom, after all, but schools of knowledge, though they take for granted that which they cannot teach – the capacity for experience, the capacity for being moved, the Goethean* sense of wonderment.’
(*Goethe: ‘I am here, that I may wonder!’)
This is an excerpt from an article by Maria Popova at The Marginalian.
The full article is here.
The Hermann Hesse quotes are from Butterflies, Reflections, Tales and Verse.