Wired for Wonder Part 3 By Bob Bishop

4 01 2015

10805690_10204355733627861_9199597015240772566_nWhen I think of wonder I think of how it is the theme of the master story teller, Steven Spielberg.  In his video essay: Moment of Wonder: The Spielberg Face  Kevin B. Lee says,

” If there is one recurring image that defines the cinema of Steven Spielberg, it is The Spielberg Face. Eyes open, staring in wordless wonder in a moment where time stands still. But above all, a child-like surrender in the act of watching, both theirs and ours. It’s as if their total submission to what they are seeing mirrors our own. The face tells us that a monumental event is happening; in doing so, it also tells us how we should feel. You can’t think of the most iconic moments in Spielberg’s cinema without The Spielberg Face.”   (footnote)

A teacher magician seeks to do this in their students but not just to produce a face of wonder but a heart that continues to wonder.

Before we continue, let us wander through a cloud of some definitions of wonder.

Wonder is astonishment, awe inspiring, and experiencing something inexplicable.  It is a feeling of surprise of the unexpected.  It provokes fascination and drives you to explore.

Robert E. Neale says in The Sense of Wonder “To wonder is to be affected with surprise or admiration; to be struck with astonishment, to marvel.  I t can also mean to feel doubt and curiosity or to be in a state of uncertainty, expectation concerning something; to query in the mind to be anxious to know or find out.  Wonder expresses an awakened interest.” (footnote)

Both magicians and teachers are thaumaturgics–workers of wonder- who seek to awaken and ignite interest. What an awesome declaration and position of esteem.  Perhaps you have experienced these different aspects of wonder from a teacher.

There is a “wonder at” leaving us confounded

There is a “wonder if”  inviting conjectures.

There is a “wonder why” drawing us to discover causes.

There is a “wonder how” beckoning us toward certainty. 


But little is written about this sense of wonder and it seems to be lacking in the current educational system.  We hear the education machinery running, people applauding, and awards earned but something of the soul of education is missing. But to be clear I am not proposing that we add another requirement to our curriculum. Every year more is added to the complexity of teacher requirements in the quest to turn education around. The answer is not adding wonder to the curriculum but uncovering the wonder that is already there and unleashing it in our students.

Listen to how wonder weaved into my life.  Like many boys I had an fascination with magic tricks. I remember on lucky days my mother took my brother and I to a novelty shop after our accordion lessons.  This was a place of color, magic tricks, puzzles, jokes, costumes ,novelties and a corner of adult items where my mother directed us away from.  Once in a while we would buy a magic trick.  One day my mother bought me a magic trick that would cause a borrowed coin to appear inside layers of metal boxes.  In fourth grade I remember performing this in front of my class.  I remember how ecstatic I became when I heard about visiting magicians in town. I also remembered  borrowing  magic tricks from a magician friend of mine to perform at birthday parties.  Going to the magic stores at Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm were something I would wait all year for.

To this day when I visit libraries I target to the section of  793.  The number 793.8 was magic and magicians and nearby were games, puzzles,  and chess.  These topics have played a large influence in my life.  An influential writer in my life was polymath Martin Gardner.   The writer and puzzle master Martin Gardner was once said to have turned dozens of innocent youngsters into math professors – and thousands of math professors into innocent youngsters. (footnote) Because of this wonder itch I have written books on games,  led  championship chess teams, created chess camps and performed thousands of magic shows.  I have performed my  Math Magic shows for 30 years.  Wonder was unleashed in my heart with magic and math.

But to be clear wonder is not in the world, it is unleashed in us.  Paul Harris, a well-known close-up magician and writer makes a case that “Astonishment is not an emotion that’s created. It’s an existing state that’s revealed.”

A while back my wife and I were at an outside shopping mall that exhibits a colorful water fountain with colored lights.  Once a hour music would play and the choreographic dancing water would stop shoppers in their tracks.  The texting stops, the  distractions fade, the arms unfold, the defenses  go down and the emotions are touched.

One evening a little boy climbed upon one of the rocks and commenced to conduct the entire spectacle with swinging arms, facial gestures and enthusiasm. Like the Sorcerer’s Apprentice he conducted the music.  There is the Magic!  He was in flow.  He immersed himself into the experience with abandonment where he believed he was controlling the dancing waters.  He was uninhibited and filled with joy, magic and wonder!   This was more magic than the fountain because we caught a glimpse of the creation of wonder from this six year old boy. His entry way to wonder was an outside musical fountain. And this tapped into the wonder in him.

       That fountain served  to unveil a state that children are not far away from and adults have traveled far from.

       Doug Henning, the hippy magician of the 70’s said, “Wonder is very necessary in life. When we were little kids, we were filled with wonder for the world — it’s fascinating and miraculous. A lot of people lose that. They become cynical and jaded. Magic renews that wonder. When we feel wonder, we are immediately reminded of the purity and innocence of our childhood”

This led me to a question. Are magicians more attuned to their sense of wonder than others?  So I asked a some influential magicians about wonder.

Stay tune for Part 4



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