I\u00a0spent last week trekking across big, beautiful mountains, and their pull on me was powerful as ever. It prompted me to wonder: Why do we seek out mountains and, in some cases, challenge ourselves against them?\r\nI was hoping to find answers in science. Biologist E.O. Wilson argues that we\u2019re hardwired to feel a special connection with natural systems, something he calls \u201cbiophilia.\u201d Because of how we evolved, he says, certain natural settings can be inviting at a deep, biological level. These settings embody the \u201cconnections we subconsciously seek with the rest of life,\u201d connections Wilson believes are literally rooted in our blood. For example, Wilson suggests that we are drawn to the African savannah because our species originated there. But this certainly doesn\u2019t explain why mountains\u2014which can be dangerous and forbidding, and often lack life\u2014wield such a visceral effect on us.\r\nNext, I turned to the intersection of natural science and math, where there is longstanding evidence that humans are attracted to symmetry. This can be traced back to ancient Greek times when Plato wrote of golden ratios and shapes like rectangles were held in the highest regard. The Greeks believed in three prongs to beauty: symmetry, proportion, and harmony.\r\nModern experiments confirm the Greeks were on to something. Numerous psychology studies show that babies are more attracted to symmetrical shapes than non-symmetrical ones, and that we rate people\u2019s beauty based on the symmetry of their faces. Scientists hypothesize this strong preference for balance is borne out of the fact that symmetry may represent superior genetic quality and also symbolize a lack of stress during development.\r\nMountains, however, are anything but symmetrical. If anything, their inherent asymmetry\u2014jagged edges, undulating ridgelines, and steep pitches\u2014is the very result of continuous stress throughout their development, including earthquakes, monsoons, and other natural disasters. If mountains were humans, they\u2019d be disfigured and malformed, the oldest, most battered of us all.\r\nPhysics was easy to cross off the list. Its fundamental force, gravity, says that what goes up must come down. Yet mountains tend to have the opposite effect, bringing what is down up, elevating the spirit and soul of those who stand below.\r\nA neuroscientist might argue that the sensation mountains elicit is related to a lack of oxygen in high-altitude air. While altitude definitely has real and formidable effects\u2014I can attest to these effects personally\u2014feeling drunk is different than feeling moved. Mountains continue to take our breath away long after science says it should have returned.\r\nAlthough science may not directly answer the question of why we are drawn to mountains, it is beginning to uncover the benefits of such a draw. Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, found that awe may be related to good health. Experiencing awe is associated with lower levels of interleukin-6, which is a molecule that encourages inflammation. In other words, more awe is likely associated with less inflammation. Dacher Keltner, senior author on the study, told the New York Times that although awe can be hard to define, one of the emotion\u2019s primary qualities is that it \u201cpasses the goosebumps test.\u201d\r\nPerhaps we are drawn to mountains because they elicit awe, and awe makes us feel good. But this still does not explain why mountains inspire awe in the first place.\r\nCould it be that mountains affect us so powerfully because they are big and remind us that we are small? Especially in today\u2019s tumult of Facebook and Twitter and customized newsfeeds and on-demand everything, it is very easy to get lost in our own little worlds\u2014little worlds in which it is easy to feel pretty big. While there is a power to feeling big, there is an equal and perhaps even greater power to feeling small.\r\nDasher Keltner seems to agree. He wrote that \u201cvastness\u201d and \u201cself-diminishment\u201d are typical characteristics of awe. He even called out mountains as emblematic of an \u201cawe inspiring entity.\u201d\r\nGeorge Mallory, a British Mountaineer who partook in the first three expeditions on Everest (and ultimately lost his life trying to summit), famously said of why he climbed Everest, \u201cBecause it is there\u2026 Its existence is a challenge. The answer is instinctive, a part of man\u2019s desire to conquer the universe.\u201d\r\nBut perhaps Mallory wasn\u2019t completely correct. Yes, we want to conquer mountains, but maybe not because we long to \u201cconquer the universe.\u201d Rather, it could be that the act of climbing a mountain tends to have the opposite effect\u2014not conquering the universe but connecting us to it, reminding us how vast the universe is and how small a part of it we are.