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How we experience awe — and why it matters | Beau Lotto and Cirque du Soleil

How we experience awe — and why it matters | Beau Lotto and Cirque du Soleil


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

Comments (58)

  1. TED ♥️🕊♥️ AKRM RAWH

  2. When you learn your value in the world dont spend it on material things spend it on your soul and spirit

  3. The speaker : You are all feeling awe
    Me : nope, WTF, this is Ted talk not "art vs circus".

  4. OMG best TED ever!!!!

  5. Best phone on wheels no type c
    https://youtu.be/B6AjNOJomfE

    Your organs a well-considered for full payments.

  6. I didn't realize I was this early or I would've commented first, this talk is just too good 😫

  7. Very interesting talk.

  8. just skip this try shrooms, youre welcome

  9. I never thought about how much of important reaction Awe was before. How boring you life be without it.

  10. I believe art is so important..especially as a hobby or past time. No wonder I would get this immediate rush and tingly sensation in my head whenever I hear or see something intriguing. Being awestruck is actually good for the mind? Great, 🤩, sign me up!

  11. The topic it's too deep. Good, nice to. The talker is inadequate.

  12. Wow! Thank you 💜✌

  13. "Find the impossible in the simple" reminiscent of William Blake's poetic lines:
    To see a World in a Grain of Sand

    And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,

    Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand

    And Eternity in an hour.

  14. Wow..it is Genius.

  15. Then only awe that I'm is aweful

  16. Thank you for this, awesome

  17. I mostly experienced ewww.

  18. I was awed by 5 orca killer whales surrounding me fin to fin in circle around me between Stuart & Vancouver Island!

  19. This was breathtaking

  20. Our lives are normal around short periods of awe!

  21. Very thought provoking!

  22. A circus act on tedx

  23. BS talk from shittest "neuroscientist" ever. Many so-called scientists are mixing superstitions with science, and present unsurppoted claims or theories as facts.

  24. The sand art was phenomenal! And the Cirque du Soleil performers were equally incredible!!! Definitely AWE inspiring

  25. Surprised it didn't say Jason Silva in the title

  26. Libertarians get this best. It understands that we're different, that my way doesn't have to be everyone else's highway, that your desire to do "good things for people" may not match my own, or my own personal experience now precludes me from dealing with others no matter what their problems as I have my own, etc.

  27. How we experience awe: This guy's hair.

  28. I wonder how you can evolve if you going to die from predictor?

  29. Mind bending awe let's you feel the fear in your gut without actually being in danger…..

  30. ARE YOU TRYING TO SUGGEST THERE ARE ONLY 2 GENDERS!?
    the nerve!

  31. 12:52 US government has been doing this in Hollywood for years.

  32. Anyone knows that song? Plz! Thank you!!

  33. WOW. The fact that you didn't played the final part of the music at the beginning made me anxious

  34. Only one minute left and I’m still waiting for the “why is it important” question to be answered. Am I being too literal? My default state.

  35. premise delivered upon. 😐

  36. 9:19 The funk soul brother

  37. Awe mah gah, so good!

  38. Hello, I come from Vietnam. This is my first time watching TED with the desire to improve my English skills. Thank you very much.

  39. quality! and that sand art was nuts!

  40. Pretentious waffle. TED is barrel scraping on a regular basis.

  41. I feel this ted talk says absolutely nothing.

  42. This was an awe full experience…😍

  43. All the off rhythm white people killing me lmao

  44. It was amazing day! Dive partner Kenny & I have scuba camp at West side San juan Island, pot full of cooking abs, Lin Cod, sea bass,etc. an smell brought people to our camp. We feed 2 great lake wreck divers, than want to see octopus, sharks, we want you to scare the shot out of us! Ok we can do that! So we showed them George (for G. Washington), an octopus at lime kilm that we took visitors to met! George was 14ft 6 in long, we knew, that was one task we were doing for Labs! They did an emergency accent and Kenny an I had to grab fins an bodies for control at depth! Take us to shore! I took them all to shore an motored up to Stuart an Vancouver Island. An Orca killer whale woke me with the sounds of his breath heading toward me, using me as a target an swam right under my 16ft zodiac rubber raft! Give me some thumbs up an ill tell the rest of the story, you already know some, Cool!

  45. 🦋I hate the dark after all satan loves darkness

  46. Note to self. “Fear is a state of certainty”……imagined or real!!!!!!?

  47. Awe… I need it everyday. So I'll find it in every scenario…

  48. Now THAT was a Ted talk.

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