Wonder is an over-rated state of mind. Popular scientific writers, Dawkins springs to mind but he is one of very many, use this to generate the sense that their observations are far from demeaning, and instead result in an elevated respect for the observed world, and ourselves our place in that world. It is in essence self-congratulation.

Much more significantly, it is an attempt to offset the sense of diminished potential that inevitably arises from comprehension. It is not immediately obvious, I suppose, why comprehension should cause this depressing effect; after all, understanding leads to power. The reason is this: comprehension makes definite those possibilities that were before unknown and could without any further justification plausibly be held to be very broad, indeed infinite since there is no evidence to the contrary. - Of the unknown, anything can be believed or hoped for.

Once clarified a potential is always (always!) made definite, and its limits made clear. It becomes manifestly finite rather than plausibly infinite. Even the sense that the universe is astonishingly big is accompanied by a sense of limitation that is absent from the more wonderful suggestion that earth is surrounded by a small solar system and the stars, because around that, in a very nebulous sense, lies the infinity of God, which is uplifting since it promises unbounded potential.

Understanding, science, delivers the contrary evidence to the temporarily plausible belief that a potential is infinite, and this is not so much unwelcome as simply less interesting. All minds, without exception, are drawn to pursue greater potentials, the next mystery; the known may be useful, but it is not as exciting. The rewards that are delivered by understanding, the sense of concretization, the sense of reality, to put it bluntly, these are not as attractive to any mind, however educated. This is entirely adaptive; once known, a subject properly loses much of its excitement; our interests lie in swiftly moving on to the next unknown, additional and possibly greater resource. It is this that lies behind the richly confirmed commonplace that the pursuit of any goal is more engaging to the mind than attainment. Indeed, in intellectual matters it is only by careful discipline that a mind can be trained to steer back towards still greater understanding of a matter already understood.

Wonder, then, is the last thing to be delivered by science, and its use in the marketing of popular scientific writings is suasive rhetoric. But this is not a trivial and forgivable matter; on the contrary it is a deeply misleading misrepresentation of the principal characteristic of understanding. Richard Dawkins and his colleagues did not set out with this result in mind, but it is what popular writings on this subject have actually achieved.