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As Social Mood Turns Negative, Our Sense of Awe Goes With It

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"Visiting the Paris Exhibition in 1900, the American writer Henry Adams saw something so remarkable he compared its influence to that of the Virgin Mary. It was a hall filled with machines - early power generators known as dynamos. Watching them at work, he "began to feel the forty-foot dynamos as a moral force, much as the early Christians felt the Cross," he wrote in The Education of Henry Adams. "The planet itself seemed less impressive, in its old-fashioned, deliberate, annual or daily revolution, than this huge wheel, revolving within arm's-length at some vertiginous speed, and barely murmuring." Adams wondered if he should pray to it." -- Christine Rosen's essay considers the modern-day lack of awe inspired by today's machines, which are so complex most of us have no idea how they operate or function. "The awe experienced by earlier generations was part of a different worldview, one that demonstrated greater humility about many things, not least of which concerned their own human limits and frailties." It also might be the case that, from a social mood perspective, we're exiting a peak-positive wave in which we were far more likely to overestimate our abilities to create, control and transform our environment. In some respects, that's what the hubristic age of subprime mortgages and failed derivatives models was all about.
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