THE SCIENCE OF AWE & COMPASSION – PART 2
In conversation with DACHER KELTNER
Q: I come from the tradition of Yoga and the Heartfulness heart-mind approach to meditation, whereas the Western Mindfulness movement has been much more focused on perception and being in the present. I think we are all realizing that we have to marry the two, because there are good things in both, and they have a lot to offer each other.
You are working with this connection, because you are Mindfulness guys working with compassion and the heart qualities. So I was really interested when you were talking about awe. How do you study the science of awe?
DK: With all of our work, I take an evolutionary perspective that really began with Charles Darwin, who said that emotions – rooted in the heart – are our basic patterns of social living. Awe is this feeling of reverence for things that are bigger than the self, whether it be a vast nature scene or a beautiful building or being lost in reverie when you watch your child learn how to walk.
So the first step in our awe research is to figure out what produces it. It is actually pretty interesting– religion is less important than I thought. More important is nature and the magnanimity of other people. People are blown away with awe at how generous, kind and virtuous other people can be.
And then we have this working idea that awe helps us fold into strong social communities, helps us be humble, helps us sacrifice for others, helps us not think so much about the self and think about other people, helps us consider other perspective to our own.
So we have done dozens of studies where we literally study people in awe-inspiring situations, out among redwood trees, looking at vistas, at musical concerts, in museums, and we have also figured out lab techniques where people watch BBC Planet Earth, and are struck by the wonder of the world, to document how awe makes us humble and sacrifice, and less ideologically stubborn, and creative and scientific. So a lot of good things are coming out of that work.
We also study the physiology as well, like why we have goose bumps.
I do know that state of wonder you feel from Yoga,
which is really what got me interested
in awe in the first place
… I would come out of class just wonderstruck
by things around me, and that is what we have been
trying to figure out.
Q: That is fascinating, because the whole of Yogic science is based on wonder and awe. So to have some scientific studies on wonder is very interesting for me.
DK: I practice Yoga, not in any disciplined way, but I do know that state of wonder you feel from Yoga, which is really what got me interested in awe in the first place. I remember doing Yoga when I was 17, when it was really not that popular in the United States, and I would come out of class just wonderstruck by things around me, and that is what we have been trying to figure out. …