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Why wonder is the most human of all emotions | Aeon Essays

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Why wonder is the most human of all emotions | Aeon Essays
One emotion inspired our greatest achievements in science, art and religion. We can manipulate it – but why do we have it?

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Describing wonder

Wonder is said to be a childish emotion. However, as adults, we experience it when gaping at something unexpectedly spectacular.

Adam Smith, an 18th-century moral philosopher, describes wond...

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Bodily symptoms

The bodily symptoms of this strange appearance point to three dimensions:

  • Sensory: The marvelous things take hold of our senses - we stare and widen our eyes.

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The scale of wonder

At the mild end of this emotion, we talk about things being marvelous. More intense emotions might be described as astonishing. The extreme of this experiences is met with expressions of awe.

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Wonder is crucial for science

  • French philosopher René Descartes described wonder as the emotion that motivates scientists to investigates phenomena.
  • Socrates said that philosophy begins with wonder - wonder leads u...

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Science, religion, and art

  • In a way, science shares much with religion: Both are used to explain life's unknown. Similarly, they have the ability to make us feel insignificant and elevated. Awe, an intense form of wonde...

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Curiosity, creativity, and inquiry

Science, religion, and art are unified in wonder. Each engages our sense, draws out curiosity, and instills reverence.

They are all uniquely human institutions and reflect the cultural matur...

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Dinosaurs by different names

Dinosaurs by different names

People have always known about dinosaurs but called them by different names.

  • Old legends that put Western dragons in caves or underground may have originated with fossils.
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An attraction to dinosaurs

Children's attraction to dinosaurs suggests that the giant creatures appeal to something innate in the human psyche.

A simple explanation is that images of dinosaurs convey the excitement of danger while posing no real threat. From a child's point of view, dinosaurs are very old and very big, just like grown-ups.

Inspiring fantasy

By inspiring fantasy in children, dinosaurs can reduce a child's feeling of helplessness. Unlike the power of adults of assertive peers, dinosaur power is under a child's thumb.

Dinosaurs appeal to a Victorian sort of "childhood wonder," emerging spontaneously in children, with little adult encouragement.

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Bring People Into Your World

Walt Disney took suspension of reality a step further building theme parks that brought people into his world. You can bring people into your world through storytelling and brand activation.

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Suspend Reality

Suspending reality is a powerful storytelling technique as it creates a safe, magical world in which to contend with powerful emotions and themes, and it allows the viewer or listener to be transported and associate that escape from reality with the story.

Anything is possible and that becomes inspiration.

Focus on Shared Desires

Disney stories have a near universal appeal because they are designed around struggles and desires that are common to humans everywhere.

You can apply this message to storytelling in your company, too. When you’re communicating with your customers, you should focus on the shared experiences and desires that make your product so valuable.

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Love sets the stage

Love sets the stage

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The neurobiology of bonding

The neurobiology of affiliation is the new scientific field that describes the neural, endocrine, and behavioral systems sustaining our capacity to love. There are three factors in the neurobiology of bonding:

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Oxytocin and attachment

Oxytocin - a large molecule produced by neurons in the hypothalamus - is known for coordinating bonding, sociality, and group living. Oxytocin targets mainly the amygdala, a center for fear and vigilance, the hippocampus, and the striatum, a locus of motivation and reward.

Oxytocin is released through the central part of the neuron as well as its extensions, called dendrites. The dendrites increase oxytocin release whenever attachment memories are used and prime us for a lifetime. Early attachment memories help us move without fear. It imprints the infant's brain with distinct social patterns.

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