“Familiarity Breeds Indifference” – Reflections on The Values of Wonder, Awe, Mystery & Curiosity.

“Familiarity breeds indifference.”

Our rigid perception of the world becomes so familar that we sadly become indifferent to the world. Hence why the wonder, awe, and curiosity a child regularly experiences is inevitably lost, rubbed away by time. The young mind, as if given to atomic decay, erodes to a half-life of indifference.

This “half-life of indifference” is what one calls “adulthood”. Not only is the loss of these vital senses (awe, wonder, curiosity) quite sad, it’s also unnecessary, as well as potentially negative for one’s health. How do we regain these positive senses to form an open-minded perspective in regards to our lives?

I argue we can do this by way of recognizing and contemplating what remains unfamiliar, or unknown. We must train our brains to “spot the strange” and bathe in its mystery.

One example of the unfamiliar is the mystery of consciousness. As you read this sentence, an organ consisting of over a billion neuron cells is currently encased by the 23-inch circumference of your cranium. It’s this very organ which allows you to read, to write, to think, to do anything or even be anything at all.

Scientists have yet to understand the vast inner-workings and complexity of neural bio-chemistry. In fact, one can safely say that the human brain is the most complex organ so far discovered in the universe. And how, exactly, does it produce this phenomena called “consciousness”?

There are many theories about consciousness. Some are scientific. Some not so much. Yet the subject remains intrinsically fascinating, and if one ruminates on consciousness long enough, one will inevitably re-discover their capacity for awe and wonder.

There is also the fact that cosmologists have calculated we can account for only 4% of the universe. The rest is . . . Mystery. The unknown. We human beings are incredibly fortunate to find ourselves equpped with the particular level of consciousness copasetic to the contemplation of these mysteries.

As a species who has been intelligent enough to invent language, mathematics, scientific methodology, religion and philosophy, we can contemplate stars, black holes, multiple-dimensions in space-time, gravity, quantum physics, quasars, dark matter, dark energy, and the plethora of other cosmological qualities which make up the fabric of our reality.

However, the contemplation of such gargantuan things isn’t necessary to invoke feelings of awe and wonder.

For example, one may contemplate the simple act of digesting food and realize that the bio-chemical phenemena occuring winin one’s stomach is incredibly fascinating and complex. Imagine this: You’re chowing down on a pepperoni pizza and at the same time, completely in awe about the microbes , molecules, stomach acids and various cells inter-interacting within the universe inside your belly.

Mystery is a gift to all who remain open-minded and receptive. Mystery is a gift to those who have not let familiarity breed indifference. Mystery, and the corresponding value of curiosity, I believe, must not be underestimated in its potential for providing a fullfilling life.

Indeed, curiosity has encouraged the lives and careers of countless human beings over many thousands of years. A curious mindset is what fuels scientists, artists and mystics alike. Yes, indeed. Mystery is a gift.

I’d also like to bring to your attention the phenomena commonly referred to as “altered states of consciousness”. An altered state of consciousness (one which is unfamiliar to our default mode of perception) can be brought about by use of drugs, the practice of meditation, and a long parade of countless other techniques of varying qualities.

What’s significant about altered states is the fact that the familiar can completely dissolve into the unfamiliar. Under the influence of LSD, DMT, or psilocybin mushrooms, feelings of euphoric joy, reverence for life, wonder, awe, and curiosity are not uncommon to users.

These novel feelings come about simply due to the incredible unfamilarity of the hallucinogenic experience. Synesthesia, for example, is commonly experienced under the influence of these drugs. Walls writhe and undulate, colors and textures of objects are increased with added vibrancy and significance, and one’s own internal senses seem magnified. All of this is a result of consuming a relatively simple looking molecule, or even a plant.

While such an experience may sound strange, it is only because we are unfamiliar to it. Had we been born with a psychedelic perception of the world, and grown up with it, perhaps we would not find it so wonderous and mystifying. Why?

Because familiarity breeds indifference.

That is why we must embrace mystery, revel within the unknown, and retain an open-mind and heart, despite the inevitable tide of familiarity and mediocrity pushing against us.

We must remember that we are finite beings within an infinite universe, and that one path to a sense of happiness and fullfillment within life, is the contemplation and pursuit of vast, mysterious, strange, and unfamiliar things.

All of this, so that we do not become indifferent. So that we don’t do ourselves the tragic injustice of cutting ourselves off from the truly wondrous life we are living.


3 thoughts on ““Familiarity Breeds Indifference” – Reflections on The Values of Wonder, Awe, Mystery & Curiosity.

  1. You ask the right questions. Of course, we live in a day and age when so very many people think the right question is what some celebrity ate for breakfast, but the answers to such questions have rather little hope of improving our lives. You ask the right questions.

    I think training oneself to “spot the strange” is a brilliant idea.

    Other than that, an interesting question is “why do things become familiar to us?” Memory of course. But have you studied just how unreliable memory is? It’s reliability is hugely exaggerated. So many of our memories are distortions. In fact, one might ague that “familiarity” is often more an illusion than a truth. e.g. I remember Jim’s face based on recollecting six data points about it. The rest of my memories of Jim’s face are more or less distortions. But when I next see Jim, I don’t look any closer than those six points. The moment I recognize those six points, I stop looking any further. Perhaps that is familiarity in a nutshell.


    1. How right you are, Paul! Familiarity is absolutely contingent upon, and conditioned by, memory (however inaccurate or distorted memories often are).

      Perhaps what makes familiarity such a barrier to one’s sense of awe and wonder about life itself is the certainty which comes with it. Most folks have a blind faith about their memories, and therefore judge each new experience according to the familiar paradigm set in their brains.

      People might become indifferent because they are certain reality is “this way” and always has been. Familiarity, after all, hardly ever breeds doubt, or encourages us to be more curious. These are my thoughts on a given midnight, anyway.

      Liked by 1 person

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