Jason Silva On Finding Awe In Everyday Life


by Aaron Kase

on June 25, 2015

“We have a responsibility to awe.” That’s the message that filmmaker and philosopher Jason Silva wants to convey in this video about the capacity of the human mind to be stimulated, inspired and to experience wonder.

Silva opens the short film with a definition of awe as “an experience of such perceptual vastness you literally have to reconfigure your mental models of the world to assimilate it.”

Then he tries to elicit the feeling, speaking in a beautiful forest with rays of sunlight shining down toward the ground and driving string music in the background.

“So I think a lot about the contrast between banality and wonder,” Silva says, “between disengagement and radiant ecstasy, between being unaffected by the here and now and being absolutely ravished emotionally by it.”

“One of the problems for human beings is mental habits,” he continues as the scene shifts to feature alarm clocks, suits, subways, the trappings of the rat race. “Once we create a comfort zone, we rarely step outside of that comfort zone.”

Unfortunately, that can mean that we lose our sense of wonder. “The consequence of that is a phenomenon known as hedonic adaptation,” Silva explains. “Over stimulation to the same kind of thing, the same stimuli again and again and again, renders said stimuli invisible. Your brain has already mapped it in its own head and you no longer literally have to be engaged by that.”

The result? “We have eyes, yet see not, ears that hear not, and hearts that neither feel nor understand.”


But there is plenty in this world to keep our minds full of awe if we only pay attention. Silva cites a quotation from author Henry Miller: “The moment one gives close attention to any thing, even a blade of grass it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself;” and one from biologist Charles Darwin: “Attention, if sudden and close, graduates into surprise; and this into astonishment; and this into stupefied amazement.”

“One of the ways that we elicit wonder is by scrambling the self temporarily so that the world can seep in,” Silva says. “That’s what rapture is. That’s what illumination is. That’s what that sort of infinite comprehending awe that human beings love so much [is].”

What we need to do is figure out how to capture that awe in our lives. “How do we do that? How do we mess with our perceptual apparatus in order to have the kind of emotional and aesthetic experience from life that we render most meaningful?” he asks. “We all know those moments are there. Those are the moments that would make final cut. Only in these moments we experience afresh the hardly bearable ecstasy of direct energy exploding on our nerve endings.”

Inspiration, he points out, comes from the Greek word to breathe in. “This is the rhapsodic, ecstatic, bursting forth of awe that expands our perceptual parameters beyond all previous limits and we literally have to reconfigure our mental models of the world in order to assimilate the beauty of that download,” Silva says. “We fit the universe through our brains and it comes out in the form of nothing less than poetry.”