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Thread: Why do we feel awed?

  1. #1 Why do we feel awed? 
    Forum Freshman Eldritch's Avatar
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    What evolutionary purpose/function is served by feeling awe and appreciating beauty in other things, such as nature? Or is this ability of ours merely a byproduct of some other process?


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    Quote Originally Posted by Eldritch View Post
    What evolutionary purpose/function is served by feeling awe and appreciating beauty in other things, such as nature? Or is this ability of ours merely a byproduct of some other process?
    A sense of aesthetics is good for breeding but it's not too likely to get specifically assigned to breeding only unless a rather complex process in the brain develops to limit it.
    Quite often, when one appreciates a beautiful area in nature, they wish to live in that beautiful area.
    In humans, we've been adaptable for so long and adapted to so many environments, we've got a broad scope. But a bird or a dog may have a more selective appreciation for a natural area- I haven't tested that, nor can I vouch for whether it's because they are awestruck by "the beautiful cliff safe from predators and want to build a nest there" or "That will do."


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    Forum Masters Degree MrMojo1's Avatar
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    I thought it was just low expectations derived from a challenging but dull lifestyle.
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    Forum Radioactive Isotope cosmictraveler's Avatar
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    “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.”
    ― Albert Einstein


    And life is veiled and hidden, even as your greater self is hidden and veiled. Yet when Life speaks, all the winds become words; and when she speaks again, the smiles upon your lips and the tears in your eyes turn also into words. When she sings, the deaf hear and are held; and when she comes walking, the sightless behold her and are amazed and follow her in wonder and astonishment.”
    ― Kahlil Gibran, The Garden of The Prophet


    “Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world."
    - John Milton
    When the power of love overcomes the love of power the world will know peace.
    Jimi Hendrix
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    has lost interest seagypsy's Avatar
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    maybe awe is the result of feeling satisfaction and safety. When you see something intense all your senses get stimulated at once. Once your brain realizes that you are safe you get a strong sense of relief that translates into awe. Or maybe we are just silly creatures that get impressed by anything we don't full comprehend.
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    The meaning of the feelings of awe and reverence, sometimes called "numinousity" are one of the myseries of the human condition. Science does not have a diffinative answer for the question in the OP. Some have gone so far as to build an arguement for the existence of a supream being from our capasity for appreciation of "numinousity". I know I'm not doing the theory justice, but it is along the lines of, "there has to be something to worship because we have the capasity to worship". Not what I would call a solid arguement, but there it is.
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    Forum Freshman Eldritch's Avatar
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    Interesting responses. Thank you all!
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    Northern Horse Whisperer Moderator scheherazade's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Eldritch View Post
    What evolutionary purpose/function is served by feeling awe and appreciating beauty in other things, such as nature? Or is this ability of ours merely a byproduct of some other process?
    The evolutionary advantage of 'awe' comes from the 'sense of connection' we experience when our senses are stimulated in this manner. A periodic 'overwhelming' of our senses serves both as a caution and an inspiration. It can prevent us from taking unusual risk and it can also provoke us to extraordinary effort by invoking a sense of curious wonder.

    'Awe' is one of the 'Hallmark Moments' of life as a sentient being. The ability to experience awe and to be able to share this experience with others may well be the true measure of 'self-awareness'.
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    Forum Radioactive Isotope skeptic's Avatar
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    Most of the replies I see in this thread seem to owe more to metaphysics than to science.

    A more likely explanation is that we attracted to (find beautiful) things that enhance our chances of survival and reproduction. We tend to find darkness ugly, and bright daylight more attractive due to our diurnal nature. Our tendency to avoid leaving a safe sanctuary in darkness or in unpleasant weather is clearly geared to survival, and we appreciate fine weather and daylight as enhancing beauty.

    Of course, being human, and having the enormous capacity for learning, and for changing our emotions and behaviour as a result of personal experience, our appreciation of beauty will be very powerfully modified by learning also. I have a friend who loves pastoral farming, and to him, the epitome of beauty is rolling grasslands. I love seascapes for other reasons. We have all developed through personal learning our own personal appreciation of beauty.
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  11. #10  
    Northern Horse Whisperer Moderator scheherazade's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by skeptic View Post
    Most of the replies I see in this thread seem to owe more to metaphysics than to science.

    A more likely explanation is that we attracted to (find beautiful) things that enhance our chances of survival and reproduction. We tend to find darkness ugly, and bright daylight more attractive due to our diurnal nature. Our tendency to avoid leaving a safe sanctuary in darkness or in unpleasant weather is clearly geared to survival, and we appreciate fine weather and daylight as enhancing beauty.

    Of course, being human, and having the enormous capacity for learning, and for changing our emotions and behaviour as a result of personal experience, our appreciation of beauty will be very powerfully modified by learning also. I have a friend who loves pastoral farming, and to him, the epitome of beauty is rolling grasslands. I love seascapes for other reasons. We have all developed through personal learning our own personal appreciation of beauty.
    Very eloquently said, skeptic. Appreciation of beauty is indeed a personal thing, but do you think that it is only beauty that inspires awe in us? Do you contemplate that perhaps the very scale of a thing might invoke awe by presenting more sensory data than we are capable of assimilating upon first impression, or possibly more than we could ever absorb?
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  12. #11  
    Forum Freshman Eldritch's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by scheherazade View Post
    Very eloquently said, skeptic. Appreciation of beauty is indeed a personal thing, but do you think that it is only beauty that inspires awe in us? Do you contemplate that perhaps the very scale of a thing might invoke awe by presenting more sensory data than we are capable of assimilating upon first impression, or possibly more than we could ever absorb?
    Such as the fact that the human brain struggles to accurately and totally perceive the size of quadruple digit numbers, and anything above that, while we can intellectualize about it, we cannot actually understand it?
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  13. #12  
    Forum Radioactive Isotope skeptic's Avatar
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    Awe versus beauty?

    I think these two are linked. We feel awe at something magnificent, like when I stood at the edge of the Grand Canyon. The feeling included the appreciation of its beauty. Perhaps awe is just a super stimulation of our beauty sense? Perhaps like the reason we love the harmful sugar hit in a soda drink?

    Or maybe someone else has a better explanation?
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  14. #13  
    has lost interest seagypsy's Avatar
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    I'm not sure awe would be restricted to things of beauty. I can imagine being awe stricken at the sight of the destruction left by a tsunami or volcanic eruption. The recent tornado destruction in Granbury, Tx. These things are not pretty, but certainly awe inspiring. I would say awe is a strong sense of humility and self awareness of just how fragile and insignificant we are.
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  15. #14  
    Northern Horse Whisperer Moderator scheherazade's Avatar
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    I think of fire as being one medium capable of inspiring awe. The flicker of flame, be it a solitary candle struggling to illuminate the darkness or sitting around a small campfire, studying the interplay of the flames with the wood, the constant motion, sound, changes of color and shape as once living wood gives over it's energy in transformation...

    By contrast, fire unleashed as in a crowning forest fire is both beautiful and terrifying as it consumes obstacles in it's path, obliterating some yet leaving others relatively unscathed as it rides the currents of wind and terrain.

    The images captured by 'storm-chasers' also give me cause for pause and reflection. Those people seem more than a little 'intense' from my perspective of self-presevation.
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