Curiosity, Awe and Wonder: the emotions that open our mind

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This paper explores how the epistemic emotions of curiosity, awe, and wonder can promote critical thinking and open-mindedness, by motivating us to expand our knowledge. Curiosity drives us to fill a local gap in our knowledge. Awe is a mixture of fear and fascination for something so vast and mysterious that it challenges our understanding, thus inciting cognitive accommodation. Wonder is intermediate between curiosity and awe. Awe is traditionally understood as a religious emotion, a reverence for the “numinous”—an unknowable, transcendent reality that is out of bounds for ordinary humans. Awe is also con-ceived as a scientific emotion, a desire to explore an infinite realm of potentiality. The latter defines "raw transcendence", a willingness to go beyond any bounda-ry imposed by tradition or authority. Newtonian science ignores such emotions, proposing a purely rational, reductionist picture of the world as a clockwork mechanism. However, the new scientific worldview sees the universe as evolv-ing while producing endless novelty. The scientific exploration of this infinite potential can benefit from practices that promote awe and wonder, such as experiencing natural landscapes, artistic beauty, complex patterns, and mathe-matical infinity. These emotions can help us to realize the Enlightenment's promise of unbounded progress in our understanding of the universe.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationBrussels
PublisherCenter Leo Apostel
Number of pages24
Publication statusPublished - 2024


  • epistemic emotions
  • free thinking
  • Enlightenment
  • science
  • religion
  • wonder
  • curiosity
  • awe


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