‘Wisdom Begins With Wonder’: evolutionary and cultural perspectives on human engagements with water and light

Socrates tells us that ‘wisdom begins with wonder’. Focusing on people’s affective engagements with water and light, this paper explores human responses to their material properties, and how, particularly in combination, they evoke wonder. It considers the experience of wonder as a basis for enlightenment, and the potential for ‘wonderful’ engagements with water to have transformative effects on ideas and values.

The paper draws on ideas from both evolutionary anthropology and cultural anthropology/material culture studies. It considers the evolution of vision, and pan-human responses to movement, colour, and ‘shine’, while also drawing comparatively on ethnographic case studies with Aboriginal communities in Cape York, in the Far North of Australia, and with the inhabitants of the Stour Valley in the southern UK. It shows how, in very different cultural contexts, engagements with water and light can be both affective and effective, exerting an important influence on people’s relationships with their material environments.

VMMA-Pitt Rivers Museum Lunchtime Lectures Hilary 2020

Pitt Rivers Museum Lecture Theatre (off Robinson Close)

Fridays at 1pm (Weeks 1-8)

Convened by Elizabeth Hallam and Christopher Morton