Raymond Tallis, ‘In Defence of Wonder.’

The Hay Festival continues, and on day three I heard Professor Raymond Tallis talk a little about his book (‘In defence of Wonder’), the principles of philosophy and why it is a valid school of thought in the modern world.

Raymond Tallis is a self-described Atheist-Humanist, he ponders the elusive monument of philosophical understanding, whilst balancing the paradigms of contemporary art and science in the midst. He described ‘wonder’ as a heightened sense of mystery and appreciation that coincidentally exists all around us, however the many ‘enemies of wonder’ (such as obligation, pre-occupation and anxiety) keep us restrained and estranged from this notion. Supposedly we must relinquish the ties of day-to-day life, in order to face the ‘four walls’ that en-cage our existence. Of course, this is discussed further in his work.

Nonetheless it is a very difficult argument to explain on paper, one which he described to have ‘tripolar’ tendencies. However the central themes to his talk were still easy to understand; wonderment – that epiphany of everything around us is synonymous with the ‘truths’ or myths that philosophers have tried to discover for centuries: That ‘meta-thing’ is similar to the ‘unanswered questions’ which scientists pursue, and artists try to mediate. Unfortunately this is often a case of subjectivity, and is often discredited in the contemporary world of philosophy (as being too pretentious and abstract).

Tallis attempted to restore the subjects’ academic credibility, and personally I think he did so wonderfully. The much pondered proverbial ‘question’ itself presents thinkers with a window to explore meaning and existence (amongst many other things) and perhaps it is not about finding some sort of answer for the question, but the process of thought itself. Mr Tallis presented the audience the bright prospects of philosophy on a silver platter; not only did he defend its name successfully but he sold it to us with gripping enthusiasm.

Furthermore, when quizzed with the prospects of a communal ‘wonder’ experience he highlighted the complications that can occur: One example he used in particular to explain this was institutionalised religion; the worshippers may attend the ceremonies, but they often do so out of some arbitrary obligation. Then there is the various doctrines and structural hierarchies that further complicate the practice. This issue of collective enlightenment went full circle, going back to the issue Tallis raised at the beginning of the talk; “How can we know for sure that this glass is the same in my eyes as it is in yours? If our perception of reality is merely synapses and socially acquired understanding, then the ‘perceived’ is always (and only) subjective, and therefore uncertain”

(The question of reality, personified by the ‘glass of water’ was – to me, very reminiscent of Slavoj Zizek’s works on subjectivity and illusion)

A fantastic talk overall. I had never heard of Raymond or his work before now, but after this I would recommend him to anyone who likes to ponder outside of the box, or anyone who has an interest in the more intellectually stimulating material.


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