“… once in a while, when you deeply reflect on one of these facts [about the size & age of the Universe], or when you’re in the right late night conversation with the right person, or when you’re staring at the stars, or when you think too hard about what death actually means—you have a Whoa moment.”Tim Urban (Wait But Why)
When I first read Tim Urban describe what he calls a Whoa moment, I felt deeply understood. An experience that was unexplainable (in my mind’s eye) simply turned into something so easily explicable for others to identify with; all due to a blog post. Truth is that these Whoa moments (although a spectacular moment to be alive) were so hard to describe that I just didn’t talk about it; or rather even try to. I had unknowingly given up on explaining the feeling of the most meaningful moments of my life to others. Perhaps that’s why Tim needed to create his own term for that experience. No one talks about it, yet I firmly think almost everybody feels something like it sometime. A Whoa moment.
There’s this weird thing about certain experiences. They’re hard to describe even though they mean so much to your human self in terms of making you feel a certain way. Although Tim does a brilliant job at trying to explain what a Whoa moment is, I think the explanation still falls short of the experience. It works (very) well but only till the borderline of making someone relate to their individual experience of something like it.
“Facts can be fascinating, but only in a Whoa moment does your brain actually wrap itself around true reality. In a Whoa moment, your brain for a second transcends what it’s been built to do and offers you a brief glimpse into the astonishing truth of our existence.”
As I have already expressed in a newsletter volume before: awareness goes deeper than knowing something. You can know the facts and think about them all you want—that,
“The Big Bang was 13.8 billion years ago, which is about 130,000 times longer than humans have existed;
if the sun were a ping pong ball in New York, the closest star to us would be a ping pong ball in Atlanta;
the Milky Way is so big that if you made a scale model of it that was the size of the US, you would still need a microscope to see the sun;
atoms are so small that there are about as many atoms in one grain of salt as there are grains of sand on all the beaches on Earth.”
but only in a Whoa moment do you go deeper than even awareness.
Awareness is more like a piece of knowledge being deeply ingrained inside of you. Knowing is just getting informed about something and knowing that. They are different. Awareness is way deeper. All those people who give clichéd advice who don’t seem to follow it themselves? They know what the “right thing to do” is. Those who follow it though, those whose actions and genuine understanding are aligned with their knowledge, they can be said to be aware.
But in a Whoa moment, we go beyond even awareness. It’s metaphorically (and perhaps even really) like transposing yourself into a higher level of consciousness.
This may sound unscientific and woo-woo, but during this moment we feel so connected to reality that we don’t feel like we’re in it. By “it” I mean the traditionally perceived reality definition we all have of our existence. Our existence feels gratifying and a strong Universal connection (which aligns with what’s really out there in reality) forms during a Whoa moment.
I (relatively) distinctly remember one of my own Whoa moments that arose during a conversation with a particular friend, while talking space, reality and the Universe (we started with why we need to reach Mars and that we are going to get there eventually, of course! Gradually building up from there to more complex yet simple truths about the Universe and what reality itself is). Other Whoa moments have occurred while reading words that speak of the truth so profoundly, under a light so awe-inspiring, that my conscious self couldn’t help but rise up to that experience.
It is while undergoing experiences like these you begin to deeply, extremely deeply become aware of and understand what Carl Sagan meant when he wrote:
“If a human disagrees with you, let him live. In a hundred billion galaxies, you will not find another.”
and what Richard Dawkins pondered about death:
“We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones.
Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born.
The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia.”
Tim Urban turned a seemingly unexplainable experience into something simply explicable. A Whoa moment is one of the greatest human experiences to come across. The mind exceeds it’s current state of being and we experience “a brief glimpse into the astonishing truth of our existence”. In itself, Whoa moments make it all worthwhile. To be able to stay in that piece of mind (inevitably) is a superpower I’m pretty certain no one in the world today possesses.
This blog post is completely inspired and would not have been possible if it weren’t for the one written by Tim Urban on his blog (Wait But Why).
(The title should not dissuade you from reading it.)