The Biological Advantage of Being Awestruck

The next time you're left speechless by the beauty of all that surrounds you, take a moment to recognize that your capacity to be left wonderstruck isn't just good for you — it's also a tremendous part of what makes you human.

In this rousing tribute to the power of awe, filmmaker Jason Silva reveals why it pays to dream, ponder, marvel and explore. It's an absolutely fantastic way to spend three minutes of your day, and a compelling reminder to seek out all the wonder that this universe has to offer.

Those interested in reading the Stanford study that Silva references can find it here, free of charge. I've included the abstract below.

"Awe Expands People's Perception of Time, Alters Decision Making, and Enhances Well-Being" (Forthcoming in Psychological Science)

Melanie Rudd, Kathleen D. Vohs, Jennifer Aaker

When do people feel as if they are rich in time? Not often, research and daily experience suggest. However, three experiments showed that participants who felt awe, relative to other emotions, felt they had more time available and were less impatient. Participants who experienced awe were also more willing to volunteer their time to help others, more strongly preferred experiences over material products, and experienced a greater boost in life satisfaction. Mediation analyses revealed that these changes in decision making and well-being were due to awe's ability to alter the subjective experience of time. Experiences of awe bring people into the present moment, which underlies awe's capacity to adjust time perception, influence decisions, and make life feel more satisfying than it would otherwise.

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Corpore Metal

Well, being a geezer used to documentaries where someone just calmly explains some wonder of the universe, the Bill Nye-esqe "pay attention, pay attention!" style of the video is distracting.

But that quibble aside, I want to move to a major point.

What drives feelings of awe or wonder in people are often radically different, as many ways as there are personalities. What makes one person stand in wonder may do nothing at all for another. Sadly, what drives awe or wonder in people is rarely scientific facts or scientific understanding of events. Much more often it is something else. Music, art, natural splendor (Even though the observer may have no idea at all how all that splendor came to be.), love, crowds of people working towards one goal, nationalism, vast stacks of books, athletic competition, etc. etc. etc.

I think the video's attempt to somehow tie feelings of awe to science is not going to work.

And I say that sadly. Science is far, far, far younger than our feelings of awe. When we were speechless apes wandering the savannahs of Africa we had feelings of awe. And we all had those feelings for mostly different reasons. Only some of those feelings drove eventually to science. The rest when to art, comedy, technology (before it was formalized into engineering.), poetry, religion and many other things.

But now science exists. And yes, for the people who really get it, science very, very definitely inspires feelings of awe and wonder. The whole experience of looking at something, at very nearly anything, and knowing exactly why it exists, how it works, how old it is, where it came from is incredibly thrilling.

To look at a tree and to be impressed by its beauty and all the activity of nature is one thing and has inspired centuries of painters and poets. But to look at that same tree, and to know the whole universe of biological knowledge behind it, within it, around it. To me, to those that get it, that is a whole other order of thing.

But this is still only a very recent thing. Less than a few thousand years old at best, about as old as mathematics, logic or philosophy. It really didn't start kicking in until about 500 years ago, when we changed the meaning of science away from its original meaning: knowledge. To its current meaning: the endlessly changing knowledge and methods of natural philosophy and the codification of all natural philosophy's discoveries.

And sadly most folks probably will never really grok it.

Which is fine, it takes all kinds.