Wondering about Wonder (…in medicine, health and flourishing…)

Martyn Evans writes:Impressions of Wonder

Impressions of Wonder

The idea of Wonder might seem too grand to be approachable, and too ambitious to be manageable. Nonetheless – like laughter, music, intimacy, high endeavour and so forth – it seems also to play a part in what makes lives go well, one of those things we’d rather not be without.

Enquiring about Wonder could take various forms – artistic, scientific, social-scientific and so on – but my research is essentially philosophical and I am engaging wonder and the sense of wonder from a philosopher’s perspective.

In this research I’m attempting three things: (1) to understand more about the place of wonder and wondering amidst our sources of flourishing, and their relation to our personal conceptions of health and illness; (2) to explore why and how human embodiment in itself justifiably provokes wonder, as well as being of course the medium through which wonder is experienced; and (3) to consider how an openness to a sense of wonder might be practically valuable, and perhaps ethically necessary, in clinical practice – on the part, arguably, of doctor and patient alike. (The significance of this last point arises, I think, because patients’ responsibilities are in general rather under-explored, and are usually thought of in rather mechanical health-promotion or ‘healthy living’ terms.)

I’m very much at the outset of this journey as far as the first two of these three enquiries are concerned, although I’ve been hinting at the third – without yet having followed it up – for perhaps ten years now.

I do also have what is on the face of it a rather different interest – in the relations among music, embodiment and medicine. However I hope that some of the key questions here, concerning whether music has important connections to our embodiment that go wider than the familiar (and rather banal) links with emotion, will turn out valuably to illuminate the enquiries into wonder. We shall see.

At the moment I’m beginning the process of recruiting potential candidates to hold a fully-funded Wellcome Trust doctoral studentship to work in the general area of wonder, and hope to fill this place in the coming months. Beyond that, a number of people from a variety of disciplines in Durham University have shown interest in collaborative research, and this may well lead to bids for further funded research in the future.

Amusingly, the most common reaction I get when people ask me what I’m studying and I tell them that it’s Wonder, is “What a wonderful thing to be working on!” – usually followed by an assurance that no pun was intended…

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