cover image Wonderstruck: How Wonder and Awe Shape the Way We Think

Wonderstruck: How Wonder and Awe Shape the Way We Think

Helen De Cruz. Princeton Univ, $27.95 (232p) ISBN 978-0-691-23212-6

Awe and wonder drive “our pursuit of knowledge” by defamiliarizing the known and pushing the mind beyond “existing schemes and heuristics,” according to this erudite study from De Cruz (Religious Disagreement), a professor of philosophy at Saint Louis University. Allowing one to “see something for the first time, or to see something as if for the first time” and “accept the immensity and wondrousness of it,” awe and wonder are at work in magic tricks that “make spectators experience something they deem impossible.” They’re also intrinsic, De Cruz writes, in religious rituals that “train our minds and bodies” to attune to and appreciate complex emotional states and fleeting details, and even in scientific theories and research: “No scientific (or other) beliefs” are “definite... we will always need wonder to challenge” existing hypotheses to make way for new ones. Broadening the study to examine awe in more surprising areas, including feminism and environmentalism (wonder helps to reframe nature as “valuable in itself” rather than a resource to exploit, for example), De Cruz constructs a persuasive and nuanced case for looking through the “everydayness” of the world to see the “strange and paradoxical” lurking in plain sight. It’s an expertly fashioned analysis of what it means to perceive the world anew. (Mar.)