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The Necessity of Awe

Helen De Cruz: Awe is a self-transcendent emotion because it focuses our attention away from ourselves and toward our environment. It is also an epistemic emotion, because it makes us aware of gaps in our knowledge. We can feel overwhelmed looking at the night sky, deeply aware that there is so much we don’t know about the Universe. In one recent study, participants listed nature as their most common elicitor of awe, followed by scientific theories, works of art and the achievements of human cooperation. The philosopher Adam Morton speculates that epistemic emotions play a crucial role in scientific practice. Imagine a scientist who knows the latest research techniques, and who is intelligent and analytical. If she lacks curiosity, awe, and other epistemic emotions, she won’t have the drive to become a good scientist, who can change her mind on the basis of evidence, explore new hypotheses, or pay attention to unexpected results.

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