It has become extremely plausible, in our culture, that this trip between the maternity ward and the crematorium is what there is to life. And we still have going into our common sense the 19th century myth, which succeeded the ceramic myth in Western history – I call it “The Fully Automatic Model”: Man is a little germ that lives on an unimportant rock ball, that revolves about an insignificant star on the outer edges of one of the smaller galaxies. But on the other hand, if you think about that for a few minutes … I am absolutely amazed to discover myself on this rock ball, rotating around this spherical fire … it’s a very odd situation! And the more I look at things, I cannot get rid of the feeling that existence is quite weird.
You see, a philosopher is sort of intellectual yokel who gawks at things that sensible people take for granted. And sensible people say, existence, it’s nothing at all, just go on and do something. See, this is the current movement in philosophy, “logical analysis”, which says: you mustn’t think about existence, it’s a meaningless concept. Therefore, philosophy has become the discussion of trivia. No good philosopher lies awake nights, worrying about the destiny of Man, and the nature of God, and that sort of thing. Because a philosopher today is a practical fellow who comes to the university with a briefcase at 9:00 and leaves at 5:00. He “does philosophy” during the day, which is discussing whether certain sentences have meaning and if so what, and – as William Earle said in a very funny essay – he would come to work in a white coat if he thought he could get away with it.
The problem is: he’s lost his sense of wonder. Wonder is in modern philosophy something one mustn’t have… it’s like enthusiasm in 18th century England: very bad form. But you see, I don’t know what question to ask when I wonder about the universe. It isn’t a question that I’m wondering about, it’s a feeling that I have. Because I cannot formulate the question that is my wonder. The moment my mouth opens to talk about it I suddenly find I’m talking nonsense.
But that should not prevent wonder from being the foundation of philosophy.
By Alan Watts