Culture Making is now archived. Enjoy five years of reflections on culture worth celebrating.
For more about the book and Andy Crouch, please visit

Posts tagged awe

from "Awe and the Machine," by Christine Rosen, In Character, A Journal of Everyday Virtues, 1 March 2010

In the early age of machines, they inspired awe by proving capable of doing what man could never do alone (such as power an entire factory), or what we once believed only man could do (play chess). Now we expect our machines to do just about everything for us, from organizing our finances to writing our grocery lists. Our machines not only ease the mundane burdens of daily life (cooking, cleaning, working), but also serve, increasingly, as both our primary source of entertainment and the means for maintaining intimate relationships with others. Henry Adams’s dynamo has been replaced by Everyman’s iPod, and awe has given way to complacence and dependence. Your computer’s e-mail program doesn’t inspire awe; it is more like a dishwasher than a dynamo. Nineteenth-century rhapsodies to the machines that tamed nature, such as the steam engine, have given way to impatience with the machines that don’t immediately indulge our whims.

excerpt Some awe
from "Social Transmission and Viral Culture," by Jonah Berger and Katherine L. Milkman, Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, 2010 :: via

One emotion we focus on in particular is awe. Stimuli that open the mind to vast and often unconsidered possibilities can inspire awe, a unique human emotion that expands a reader’s frame of reference (Keltner and Haidt 2003). Awe is the emotion of self-transcendence, a feeling of admiration and elevation in the face of something greater than the self (Haidt 2006). It occurs when two conditions are met (Keltner and Haidt 2003). First, people experience something vast: either physically vast such as the grand canyon, conceptually vast such as a grand theory or finding, or socially vast such as fame or power. Second, the vast experience cannot be accommodated by existing mental structures. Intellectual epiphanies, natural wonders, and great works of art can all make people feel a sense of awe (Shiota, Keltner, and Mossman 2007). Similarly, news stories about a treatment that may cure AIDS or a hockey goalie who continues to play even with brain cancer may both inspire some level of awe.

Awe may be linked to social transmission for a number of reasons. First, awe encourages people to connect with others and spread the word. People who have had epiphanies through drug use or religious experiences, for example, seem to have a deep need to talk about them or proselytize (James 1902; Keltner and Haidt 2003). Other types of awe-inducing experiences may activate the same psychological mechanisms evoked by epiphanies. Second, awe inducing stimuli also tend to be entertaining, inspiring, and contain a great deal of information. Each one of these aspect in itself is a reason that people may share things. Third, because awe-inducing experiences are characterized by the accommodation of existing mental structures, they should be particularly likely to drive people to talk to others to understand how they feel (Rime, Mesquita, Philippot, and Boca 1991). Finally, awe-inducing experiences encourage people to look beyond themselves and deepen connections to the broader social world (Shiota, Keltner, and Mossman 2007). All of these factors suggest that awe should lead people to want to share.