Awe is a skill you can cultivate
Awe Is a Skill You Can Cultivate
by Paul Nicolaus
On Christmas Eve 1968, earthlings tuned in, mesmerized, as Apollo 8 crew members beamed their words and pictures back to the rest of humanity. “The vast loneliness up here of the moon is awe-inspiring,” Jim Lovell remarked during the live broadcast of the first manned mission to the moon, “and it makes you realize just what you have back there on Earth.”
Astronauts who have viewed our planet from space often describe a cognitive shift that transforms their perspective—a phenomenon author Frank White refers to as the “overview effect.” In addition to evoking an immediate emotional response, it seems to have a longer-term impact as well. A number of former astronauts have gone on to pursue environmental and humanitarian efforts, citing this mental shift as the catalyst, explains Harvard doctoral candidate Megan Powell Cuzzolino, who studies awe in the context of scientific learning and discovery.
Space travel isn’t a prerequisite for experiencing awe, however. The iconic “Earthrise” photo taken during this mission 50 years ago created what might be called a mini-overview effect on the folks back home. The image is widely cited as a turning point that “birthed the environmental movement of the mid-20th century,” Cuzzolino says.
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