“He who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead…” – Albert Einstein
Eminent psychologist Nicholas Humphrey has written of the biological advantage of being awe-struck. How fortuitous, he says, for a species to find its own ability to contemplate, to marvel at its own existence has been evolutionary advantageous. In other words, it has been biologically selected for, because it informs our life with sense of cosmic significance, that makes us work harder, to persist, and to survive. In other words, “awe” has helped us to survive. A recent study out of Stanford University found that regular incidences of awe leave residual benefits upon the individual that persists, such as increased feelings of empathy and compassion towards others, increased feelings of altruism, increased feeling of general well-being. In this study, they define “awe” as an experience of such perceptual expansion. Such perceptual vastness in which, you literally have to re-configure and upgrade your mental schematic, just to accommodate, just to take in the scale of the experience. This is amazing. We’ve all felt this before, the first time we stared upon the Grand Canyon, or succumb to the immersive power of an IMAX film, but perhaps the most exquisite account of an experience of ‘awe’ was articulated by the brilliant Ross Anderson when writing about Hubble Telescope. He says that the Hubble has given us nothing less than an ontological awakening. A forceful reckoning of what is. Allowing us to contemplate space and time, on a scale just shy of infinite. Wild. He says gazing upon the famous deep field photograph literally allows us, to mainline the whole of time through the optic nerve. To fit something impossibly large to something so impossibly small. It’s… incredible. He says through the sheer aesthetic force of its discoveries, the Hubble distills the impossibly complex distractions of astrophysics to these singular expressions of color and light vindicating Keith’s famous coupled beauty is truth – truth, beauty.
– Jason Silva
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