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How we experience awe -- and why it matters

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    Before I get started:
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    I'm really excited to be here
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    to just actually watch
    what's going to happen, from here.
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    So with that said,
    we're going to start with:
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    What is one of our greatest needs,
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    one of our greatest needs for our brain?
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    And instead of telling you,
    I want to show you.
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    In fact, I want you to feel it.
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    There's a lot I want you to feel
    in the next 14 minutes.
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    So, if we could all stand up.
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    We're all going to conduct
    a piece of Strauss together.
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    Alright? And you all know it.
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    Alright. Are you ready?
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    Audience: Yeah!
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    Beau Lotto: Alright.
    Ready, one, two, three!
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    It's just the end.
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    (Music: Richard Strauss
    "Also Sprach Zarathustra")
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    Right?
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    You know where it's going.
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    (Music)
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    Oh, it's coming!
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    (Music stops abruptly)
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    Oh!
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    (Laughter)
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    Right?
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    Collective coitus interruptus.
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    OK, you can all sit down.
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    (Laughter)
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    We have a fundamental need for closure.
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    (Laughter)
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    We love closure.
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    (Applause)
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    I was told the story that Mozart,
    just before he'd go to bed,
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    he'd go to the piano and go,
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    "da-da-da-da-da."
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    His father, who was already in bed,
    would think, "Argh."
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    He'd have to get up
    and hit the final note to the chord
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    before he could go back to sleep.
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    (Laughter)
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    So the need for closure
    leads us to thinking about:
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    What is our greatest fear?
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    Think -- what is our greatest fear
    growing up, even now?
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    And it's the fear of the dark.
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    We hate uncertainty.
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    We hate to not know.
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    We hate it.
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    Think about horror films.
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    Horror films are always shot in the dark,
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    in the forest,
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    at night,
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    in the depths of the sea,
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    the blackness of space.
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    And the reason is because
    dying was easy during evolution.
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    If you weren't sure that was a predator,
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    it was too late.
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    Your brain evolved to predict.
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    And if you couldn't predict, you died.
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    And the way your brain predicts
    is by encoding the bias and assumptions
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    that were useful in the past.
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    But those assumptions
    just don't stay inside your brain.
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    You project them out into the world.
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    There is no bird there.
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    You're projecting the meaning
    onto the screen.
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    Everything I'm saying to you right now
    is literally meaningless.
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    (Laughter)
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    You're creating the meaning
    and projecting it onto me.
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    And what's true for objects
    is true for other people.
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    While you can measure
    their "what" and their "when,"
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    you can never measure their "why."
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    So we color other people.
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    We project a meaning onto them
    based on our biases and our experience.
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    Which is why the best of design is almost
    always about decreasing uncertainty.
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    So when we step into uncertainty,
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    our bodies respond
    physiologically and mentally.
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    Your immune system
    will start deteriorating.
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    Your brain cells wither and even die.
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    Your creativity and intelligence decrease.
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    We often go from fear to anger,
    almost too often.
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    Why? Because fear is a state of certainty.
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    You become morally judgmental.
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    You become an extreme version of yourself.
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    If you're a conservative,
    you become more conservative.
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    If you're a liberal,
    you become more liberal.
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    Because you go to a place of familiarity.
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    The problem is that the world changes.
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    And we have to adapt or die.
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    And if you want to shift from A to B,
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    the first step is not B.
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    The first step is to go from A to not A --
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    to let go of your bias and assumptions;
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    to step into the very place
    that our brain evolved to avoid;
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    to step into the place of the unknown.
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    But it's so essential
    that we go to this place
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    that our brain gave us a solution.
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    Evolution gave us a solution.
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    And it's possibly one of the most profound
    perceptual experiences.
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    And it's the experience of awe.
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    (Music)
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    (Applause)
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    (Music)
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    (Applause)
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    (Music)
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    (Applause)
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    (Music)
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    (Applause)
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    (Cheers)
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    (Applause)
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    Beau Lotto: Ah, how wonderful, right?
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    So right now, you're probably all feeling,
    at some level or another, awe.
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    Right?
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    So what's happening
    inside your brain right now?
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    And for thousands of years,
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    we've been thinking and writing
    and experiencing awe,
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    and we know so little about it.
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    And so to try to understand
    what is it and what does it do,
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    my Lab of Misfits had just
    the wonderful opportunity and the pleasure
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    to work with who are some of the greatest
    creators of awe that we know,
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    the writers, the creators,
    the directors, the accountants,
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    the people who are Cirque Du Soleil.
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    And so we went to Las Vegas,
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    and we recorded
    the brain activity of people
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    while they're watching the performance,
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    over 10 performances of "O,"
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    which is iconic Cirque performance.
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    And we also measured
    the behavior before the performance,
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    as well as a different group
    after the performance.
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    And so we had over 200 people involved.
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    So what is awe?
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    What is happening
    inside your brain right now?
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    It's a brain state. OK?
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    The front part of your brain,
    the prefrontal cortex,
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    which is responsible
    for your executive function,
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    your attentional control,
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    is now being downregulated.
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    The part of your brain called
    the DMN, default mode network,
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    which is the interaction
    between multiple areas in your brain,
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    which is active during, sort of, ideation,
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    creative thinking in terms
    of divergent thinking and daydreaming,
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    is now being upregulated.
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    And right about now,
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    the activity in your
    prefrontal cortex is changing.
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    It's becoming asymmetrical
    in its activity,
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    biased towards the right,
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    which is highly correlated
    when people step forward into the world,
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    as opposed to step back.
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    In fact, the activity across the brains
    of all these people was so correlated
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    that we're able to train
    an artificial neural network
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    to predict whether or not
    people are experiencing awe
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    to an accuracy of 75 percent on average,
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    with a maximum of 83 percent.
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    So what does this brain state do?
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    Well, others have demonstrated,
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    for instance, Professors
    Haidt and Keltner,
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    have told us that people feel small
    but connected to the world.
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    And their prosocial behavior increases,
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    because they feel an increased
    affinity towards others.
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    And we've also shown in this study
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    that people have less need
    for cognitive control.
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    They're more comfortable with uncertainty
    without having closure.
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    And their appetite
    for risk also increases.
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    They actually seek risk,
    and they are better able at taking it.
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    And something that
    was really quite profound
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    is that when we asked people,
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    "Are you someone who has a propensity
    to experience awe?"
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    They were more likely
    to give a positive response
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    after the performance
    than they were [before].
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    They literally redefined themselves
    and their history.
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    So, awe is possibly the perception
    that is bigger than us.
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    And in the words of Joseph Campbell,
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    "Awe is what enables us to move forward."
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    Or in the words of a dear friend,
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    probably one of our
    greatest photographers,
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    still living photographers,
    Duane Michaels,
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    he said to me just the other day
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    that maybe it gives us the curiosity
    to overcome our cowardice.
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    So who cares? Why should we care?
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    Well, consider conflict,
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    which seems to be so omnipresent
    in our society at the moment.
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    If you and I are in conflict,
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    it's as if we're at the opposite
    ends of the same line.
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    And my aim is to prove that you're wrong
    and to shift you towards me.
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    The problem is, you are doing
    exactly the same.
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    You're trying to prove that I'm wrong
    and shift me towards you.
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    Notice that conflict is the setup
    to win but not learn.
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    Your brain only learns if we move.
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    Life is movement.
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    So, what if we could use awe,
    not to get rid of conflict --
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    conflict is essential,
    conflict is how your brain expands,
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    it's how your brain learns --
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    but rather, to enter conflict
    in a different way?
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    And what if awe could
    enable us to enter it
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    in at least two different ways?
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    One, to give us the humility
    and courage to not know.
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    Right? To enter conflict
    with a question instead of an answer.
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    What would happen then?
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    To enter the conflict
    with uncertainty instead of certainty.
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    And the second is,
    in entering conflict that way,
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    to seek to understand,
    rather than convince.
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    Because everyone makes sense
    to themselves, right?
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    And to understand another person,
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    is to understand the biases
    and assumptions
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    that give rise to their behavior.
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    And we've actually initiated a pilot study
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    to look to see whether
    we could use art-induced awe
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    to facilitate toleration.
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    And the results are actually
    incredibly positive.
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    We can mitigate against anger and hate
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    through the experience of awe
    generated by art.
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    So where can we find awe,
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    given how important it is?
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    So, what if ...
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    A suggestion:
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    that awe is not just
    to be found in the grandeur.
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    Awe is essential.
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    Often, it's scale --
    the mountains, the sunscape.
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    But what if we could actually
    rescale ourselves
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    and find the impossible in the simple?
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    And if this is true,
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    and our data are right,
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    then endeavors like science,
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    adventure, art, ideas, love,
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    a TED conference, performance,
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    are not only inspired by awe,
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    but could actually be our ladders
    into uncertainty
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    to help us expand.
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    Thank you very much.
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    (Applause)
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    Please, come up.
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    (Applause)
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    (Cheers)
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    (Applause)
Title:
How we experience awe -- and why it matters
Speaker:
Beau Lotto and Cirque du Soleil
Description:

more » « less
Video Language:
English
Team:
closed TED
Project:
TEDTalks
Duration:
14:48

English subtitles

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