Existential Awe?

To some, existential awe might seem like a contradictory concept. Existentialism has been given the name of meaningless and morally relativistic, whereas awe is something beautiful. The two concepts are in fact tied together in a way that to embrace one and not the other would be absurd. I might choose to spend entire posts on these two concepts at a later date, so these should in no way be considered exhaustive.

Existentialism has historically been accused of being a sad philosophy, devoid of happiness. Its critics have claimed that because existentialism denies a world that is filled with inherent meaning, we are left with sadness and nihilistic hopelessness. In fact, existentialism is one of the most hopeful philosophies of all, and it is tied to awe in an elegant way. Existentialism simply asks you to take responsibility for the creation of yourself. The more atheistic forms of existentialism will also argue that there is no God, no Allah, no Shiva or Vishnu, and that in reality there is no objective meaning to the universe. We have now made it to moral relativism. Moral relativism is a nice place to stop and have a breath while you are on a philosophical journey, but it is not the resting place of truth. Unlike nihilists, existentialists claim that because there is no objective truth, we are free to create our own. God is not telling us how to live, instead other humans and thousand year old books are doing that for us instead. If we choose to accept the mundane, blame all our problems on others, and refuse to try and reshape our world, then we are not living as existentialists, and will rarely if ever experience wonder and awe. In a world that is filled with beauty and creativity, the choice to be passive is exactly that: a choice.

If you want to live in the mundane, then that’s fine too! Just realize your choice to do so is created by you. I am not trying to say have total freedom over our lives. It is very unlikely that I will be a millionaire one day, or play in the NFL. But I can always rally with people who want to oppose the abuse of power in order to change it. We have control over our own critical thinking, and we can choose to understand the context of our choices or not.

This is where the idea of Awe comes in. Awe, as described by Filmmaker Philosopher Jason Silva (who is the prime inspiration for this blog) is “an experience of such perceptual vastness you literally have to reconfigure your mental models of the world to assimilate it.” Awe is what allows us to understand the profundity of every situation, to realize that we have the ability to shape our lives the way we want. It is mind-manifest, our dreams actualized in the world. Awe is what we get when we change our surroundings, step out of our comfort zone and become something new.

Awe only can exist with Existential awareness. Wonder can only mold our lives if we have the capacity to embrace the unknown, look deep into ourselves and then explode with the infinite possibilities that arrive from that realization. We can have moments of wonder and shock that do not change our lives, because we do not embrace the strangeness, and the absurdity.

This blog is dedicated to the idea that we have the capacity to shape our lives and the world through Existential Awe. I want to explore this by looking across civilizations and looking at individuals who are awestruck right now, in the hopes that we can change the world, and start looking at ourselves as a community of individuals, as people active in their own self-creation. The hope is to have a new post at least once a week. Sometimes they will be essay-like posts (like this one), other times they will be posts of other people’s awesome and inspiring work.


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