New Study: Immersing Yourself in Art, Music & Nature Might Reduce Inflammation & Increase Life Expectancy


Of all the philo­soph­i­cal con­cepts Immanuel Kant is known for, the one I’ve had to strug­gle the least to grasp is his descrip­tion of the sub­lime, a state in which we are over­awed by the scale of some great work of man or nature. It’s an expe­ri­ence, in typ­i­cal Kant­ian fash­ion, that he explains as being not about the thing itself, but rather the idea of the thing. Yet the con­cept of the sub­lime isn’t his. Philoso­phers from the Greek teacher Long­i­nus in the 1st cen­tu­ry to Edmund Burke and oth­er Eng­lish Enlight­en­ment thinkers in Kan­t’s own 18th cen­tu­ry have had their take on it. For the clas­si­cal writ­ers, the sub­lime was rhetor­i­cal, for the Brits, it was empir­i­cal. But above all, the sub­lime is peak aesthetics—a supra-ratio­nal expe­ri­ence of art or nature one can­not get one’s head around. To be so ful­ly absorbed, so strick­en with awe, won­der, and, yes, even fear—all of these philoso­phers believed in some fashion—is to have an expe­ri­ence crit­i­cal to tran­scend­ing our lim­i­ta­tions.

We may not, in either com­mon speech or aca­d­e­m­ic phi­los­o­phy, talk much about the sub­lime these days, but what­ev­er we call the feel­ing of being absorbed in art, music, or nature, it turns out to have phys­i­cal ben­e­fits as well as men­tal and emo­tion­al. “There seems to be some­thing about awe,” says pro­fes­sor of psy­chol­o­gy Dacher Kelt­ner. “It seems to have pro­nounced impact on mark­ers relat­ed to inflam­ma­tion.”

In oth­er words, immers­ing your­self in art or nature is good for the joints, and it could pos­si­bly pre­empt var­i­ous dis­eases trig­gered by inflam­ma­tion. Kelt­ner and his fel­low researchers at UC Berke­ley con­duct­ed a study which found that “awe, won­der and beau­ty pro­mote [low­er and over­all] health­i­er lev­els of cytokines”—pro­teins that “sig­nal the immune sys­tem to work hard­er.” He goes on to say that “the things we do to expe­ri­ence these emotions—a walk in nature, los­ing one­self in music, behold­ing art—has [sic] a direct influ­ence upon health and life expectan­cy.”

Nev­er mind that Kant and Burke thought of the sub­lime and the beau­ti­ful as two very dif­fer­ent things. Whether we become total­ly over­whelmed by, or just find deep appre­ci­a­tion in an aes­thet­ic expe­ri­ence, the emo­tions pro­duced “might be just as salu­bri­ous as hit­ting the gym,” writes Hyper­al­ler­gic. That may seem a crude way of think­ing about the spir­i­tu­al and emo­tion­al grandeur of the sub­lime, but it brings our phys­i­cal being into the dis­cus­sion in ways many philoso­phers have neglect­ed. Grant­ed, the researchers them­selves admit the causal link is uncer­tain: it might be bet­ter health that leads to more expe­ri­ences of awe, and not the oth­er way around. But cer­tain­ly no harm—and a great deal of good—can come from con­duct­ing the exper­i­ment on your­self. Read an abstract (or pur­chase a copy) of the Berke­ley team’s arti­cle here, and learn more about their work with the Uni­ver­si­ty’s Greater Good Sci­ence Cen­ter, which aims to “spon­sor ground­break­ing sci­en­tif­ic research into social and emo­tion­al well-being.”

via Hyper­al­ler­gic

Relat­ed Con­tent:

This Is Your Brain on Jane Austen: The Neu­ro­science of Read­ing Great Lit­er­a­ture

How Walk­ing Fos­ters Cre­ativ­i­ty: Stan­ford Researchers Con­firm What Philoso­phers and Writ­ers Have Always Known

Free Guid­ed Med­i­ta­tions From UCLA: Boost Your Aware­ness & Ease Your Stress

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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