Saturday, May 23, 2015

A Wonderful Experience

Human Connections

A Sense of Wonder: Awe inspires altruistic behaviour, the article says. “In still other studies, we have sought to understand why awe arouses altruism of different kinds. One answer is that awe imbues people with a different sense of themselves, one that is smaller, more humble and part of something larger.”
Image Credit: Alain Pilon, NYT
Source: NYT

An opinion piece, by Paul Piff and Dacher Keltner, in The New York Times gives a rather convincing explanation of the social and cultural importance of awe-inspiring experiences; these shared experiences make humans more socially aware of other humans, that such experiences tell us that we have many things in common with others.

Piff and Keltner, both professors of psycholgy at American universities, write in the article (“Why Do We Experience Awe?”; May 22, 2015) that this effect—the one that causes goose bumps— is instructive and beneficial to human development.
HERE’S a curious fact about goose bumps. In many nonhuman mammals, goose bumps — that physiological reaction in which the muscles surrounding hair follicles contract — occur when individuals, along with other members of their species, face a threat. We humans, by contrast, can get goose bumps when we experience awe, that often-positive feeling of being in the presence of something vast that transcends our understanding of the world.
Why do humans experience awe? Years ago, one of us, Professor Keltner,argued (along with the psychologist Jonathan Haidt) that awe is the ultimate “collective” emotion, for it motivates people to do things that enhance the greater good. Through many activities that give us goose bumps — collective rituals, celebration, music and dance, religious gatherings and worship — awe might help shift our focus from our narrow self-interest to the interests of the group to which we belong.
Whether it is found by being in nature, by participating in a religious or spiritual service, or by attending a musical performance, the sense of wonder these evoke in humans has the power to make us less selfish, less egotistical—it is the antithesis of the individual pursuit, the opposite of self-marketing, of self-promotion, and of résumé building. These awe-inspiring moments give us a sense of proportion; to wit, we are not the gigantic homo sapiens with large brains that we often see ourselves as being, but much smaller beings who are part of a larger world and an infinite and a strange & wonderful cosmos. It’s a humbling experience.

For more, go to [NYT]

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