Previously I reviewed a new book about awe. In this entry I share some of the author’s significant observations. Today: His basic framework to describe this phenomenon.
Like most fundamental human emotions, awe presents itself in simple terms. UC Berkeley Professor Dacher Keltner and New York University collaborator Jonathan Haidt define awe as “1the feeling of being in the presence of something vast that transcends your current understanding of the world.” Awe is what we feel when we encounter the vast mysteries of life.
Describing awe’s foundations, these two social scientists proposed the idea of “flavoring themes,” context-framed ways by which we assign meaning to vastness: Extraordinary virtue and ability, supernatural belief systems and perceived threat.
With UW Madison Professor Yang Bai, Keltner collected thousands of awe stories from twenty-six countries around the world. Analyzing the content of these stories, Keltner and Bai constructed a descriptive taxonomy comprising “The Eight Wonders of Life.” These types of awe experiences included:
- Moral beauty—the courage, kindness and overcoming strength of others;
- Collective effervescence—a mutually perceived life force that merges people together into a collective self;
- The natural world—experiences with the power and scope of nature’s manifestations;
- Music—patterned sounds that transport people into imagination and memories;
- Visual design—the physical beauties of the artifacts of human construction;
- Stories of spiritual awe—mystical sensations, however codified and experienced;
- Stories of life and death—experiences with birth and dying and
- Epiphanies—sudden understandings of essential truths about life.
Keltner strongly advocates that we value “everyday awe,” a term that describes the ordinary experiences in life that indicate or exemplify the innate vastness or mystery of life.
Considering Keltner’s awe matrix—and its accompanying stories—I found myself understanding more fully those moments in my life when I have experienced what he writes about. I remembered again that, although it may be described with simple words, awe experiences are always profound.
And for me, always connected to God’s presence….
1Awe: The New Science of Everyday Wonder and How It Can Transform Your Life. By Dacher Keltner. Copyright © 2023. New York: Penguin Press. ISBN 978-1-9848-7968-4, page 7.
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