Two people stand on a mountain top. In the distance a chain of mountains fades into the horizon, clouds stretch their wispy fingers as if grasping for the distant sun. Color is scattered across the world. It is a sight that neither of the individuals have seen before. Both recognize that this experience is rare, and enjoyable.
Both experience a kind a question as they look at this site, although they may not ever put it into words. Both wonder: How could this be? A chill rises in them. Here they are both on the threshold of Awe. At this stage awe is only pending. There is an opportunity for awe, an invitation. But this is no guarantee. One will feel it. And the other will flip the safety switch, and awe cascade, and its accompanying fear will be terminated.
The experience of each person would be different and unique. I do not propose the following as a recipe for awe by any means. But let us suppose that the thoughts of one person follow this train of association:
How on earth could there be such large mountains? Where do they come from? I recall now. The plates of the earth are moving. Imagine that, that such massive things as continents can move! And over time they collide and they buckle, and rise. Amazing. But what makes the plates move? Isn’t it the forces of heat within the planet? That is fascinating to think about as I look at these mountains. But this is only the end of a very long process. The universe is complex and fascinating. I want to know more about it. I want to understand this world that I live it. I want to remember this feeling.
The other person is not prepared for this little mental journey. Instead they cancel the awe. Maybe they think something like:
Look at those mountains! Wow. I wonder what is for lunch.
And just like that their mental journey is over. There is no mystery left to ponder. There is no cascade of wonder. There is no life changing experience. I really wonder what it would take to rid us of our awe circuit breaker. To leave us more susceptible to the experience. I think that much of our popular culture protects us from true awe. It provides us with trite answers. It hides the complexity and wonder of the world away behind ADHD-compatable soundbites, and fundamentalist-friendly conversation killers.
I believe that at least a basic understanding of science is necessary to see the world as it really is. And that it takes a bit of work to climb those steps. But trust me. The view is totally worth it.