Who’s in Your All-Day Wonder Cabinet? (+NYC Event)

 In Innovation

In a world of survival of the fittest, how did the peacock feather endure?

Do animals “get” music?

How can music save forests from pine beetle invasions?

How can mixing up our senses help us feel what other animals feel?

Those are some of the questions I plan to live in tomorrow with about 300 other adults in New York City.

Yes, 300 adults together making up one gigantic wonder cabinet. And it’s free.

Want to join me for an all-day Wonder Cabinet?


Wonder Cabinets (wunderkammer) were cabinets and sometimes whole rooms devoted to a person’s curiosities and unanswerable conundrums usually related to the natural world. Human horns and monstrously sized skulls, peculiar feathers and teeth and a whole lot more filled these cabinets.  This way of collecting curiosities, which began circa the 17th century, seeded our current museums of natural history.

(Incidentally, a small wonder cabinet hangs above the Tracking Wonder conference table in our studio. And in many respects, I suggest that at its best the Internet is a virtual Wonder Cabinet.)

Wonder is not kid’s stuff. It’s really not. When I speak of wonder to groups, many of them think “Children stomping in puddles” and “Toddlers reeling in the snow.” True, many toddlers and children are wide-eyed, uninhibited, spontaneous. They love the stuff of wonder – delight and surprise.

But so do we.

And so when I think of wonder, I imagine scientists in wild, wide-eyed pursuit of this beautiful physical world’s mysteries. I see artists and performers shaping new ways of experiencing sound and image and these things called heart-strings mixed with string theory. I see men and women daring to engage their days as quests full of risk and surprise, delight and creative challenge – despite what unbidden distractions take them off-course.

And when you bring them all together in one room, you get a dynamic human wonder cabinet.


And tomorrow, thanks to the generosity of The New York Institute of the Humanities – directed by Lawrence Weschler – I’ll be in an auditorium full of adults who are with me on this for a free event open to the public. They’ve been kind enough to extend me a press pass with access to some of my adulthood heroes of wonder.

JARON LANIER, author of the international best-seller You Are Not a Gadget and virtual reality thinker, offers a conceptual introduction.

LAURIE ANDERSON, one of the most celebrated performance artists in the world and inventor of the tape-bow violin, speaks on how animals learn music and then enchants her with her singularly unique way of performing.

DAVID ABRAM, included in the Tracking Wonder Handbook 2, cultural ecologist and author of Spell of the Sensuous and Becoming Animal, speaks on synesthesia as a portal for us to “become more animal.”

DAVID ROTHENBERG – author of Survival of the Beautiful, Thousand Mile Song, Why Birds Sing, and a recording artist with ECM Records – hosts the event.
And a whole lot more.

“Survival of the Beautiful” All-Day Wonder Cabinet:
Artists & Scientists on The Evolution of Nature’s Beauty
Cantor Film Center, 36 E. 8th Street, NYC
Free & Open to the Public (first-come, first-in)

Keep watch at my Tracking Wonder blog at Psychology Today where I’ll offer you updates.


I’m curious: Who would you include in your all-day Wonder Cabinet? Why? (Why not?)
See you in the woods (or there!),

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  • Charlotte

    Sounds wonderful, and I’m sure it was a delightful day. Can’t wait to read more about it. Love the analogy of the internet as a wonder cabinet.

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