Amazement is the emotion of overwhelming wonder at an impersonal, external event. It happens when people comprehend impressive things they’re unable to fully understand – especially new experiences.
Amazement is reached through astonishment at a positive thing. When a person is astonished, the instinctual reaction, which usually takes milliseconds, is a preparation for another emotion. The eyebrows are raised, as the eyes open, letting more light onto the pupils to improve vision. The posture becomes more erect as the lungs take a deep breath, and the body is poised to move away if danger is present.1
If the astonishing event is deemed positive, the astonished expression morphs into amazement or admiration. Both are filled with positive wonder. The eyebrows lower, the eyes softly reduce in size, while the open mouth closes and widens into a smile. Amazement differs from admiration. The defining point that separates the two is that amazement is associated with impersonal events rather than the appreciation of personal characteristics.
The duration of this instinctual reaction is linked to the intensity of the perceived event. Most often, the initial astonishing reaction is measured in milliseconds and occasionally seconds, yet the conviction placed in the wondrous event may last a lifetime and stay in memory for vivid, visual recall for just as long. In an evolutionary sense, this suggests that amazement has played an important role in humans’ accumulative knowledge of environmental events. The wonder of amazement can be the initial spark of insight which fuels scientific curiousity, and subsequent amazing revelations can sustain such interests through a lifetime while simultaneously inspiring others too. When one amazing insight is investigated, it often leads to propagation. Kindling for hopes which form the substrate of cultural development.
Standing on the stone bank of a waterfall in the middle of a forest, a man realises the bulging torrent of water is caused by fresh rain water draining off the slopes of nearby mountains. He feels its violent motion vibrating the mass of rock beneath his feet. It rattles his bones. While trying to comprehend how drops of rain could be responsible for such powerful forces, he instinctively takes a step back. An enormous oak tree is speeding down river towards where he stands. While grazing the opposite bank, it rips bushes and branches from their majestic riverside residences before dumping them in its turbulent wake. The man stands fixed to the spot in astonishment. Then he watches in amazement as the oak tree roars past and over the waterfall.
“Rain drops did that!”, he thinks to himself.
The origin of the word amazement comes from a maze or labyrinth. It describes the overwhelming wonder that such an intricate arrangement creates. As the depth and complexity of the event is first appreciated, milliseconds (longer with more dramatic events) of astonishment can be seen before the expression arrives at wide-eyed, smiling amazement.
Latin. A+Maze+Ment = overwhelming wonder.
1. A feeling of great surprise or wonder.