Sunday, December 13, 2009

Why do I travel?

I accept my frequent traveling as something that is part of my job and for which I get paid my salary. I travel because, if I don’t, my boss will kick my ass. So, I don’t need to ask myself metaphysical questions such as “Why do I travel?”

But Jonah Lehrer of Frontal Cortex, being a writer can afford to ask the question, “Why do we travel?” and then proceed to answer the question as well

Travel is a basic human desire. But, is this collective urge to travel - to put some distance between ourselves and everything we know--still a worthwhile compulsion?

The good news, at least for those of you reading this while stuck on a tarmac eating stale pretzels, is that pleasure is not the only consolation of travel. In fact, several new science papers suggest that getting away—and it doesn't even matter where you're going--is an essential habit of effective thinking. It's not about vacation, or relaxation, or sipping daiquiris on an unspoiled tropical beach: it's about the tedious act itself, putting some miles between home and wherever you happen to spend the night.

The reason such travels are mentally useful involves a quirk of cognition, in which problems that feel "close"--and the closeness can be physical, temporal, or even emotional--get contemplated in a more concrete manner. As a result, when we think about things that are nearby, our thoughts are constricted, bound by a more limited set of associations. While this habit can be helpful--it allows us to focus on the facts at hand--it also inhibits our imagination. Consider a field of corn. When you're standing in the middle of the field, surrounded by the tall cellulose stalks and fraying husks, the air smelling faintly of fertilizer and popcorn, your mind is automatically drawn to thoughts that revolve around the primary meaning of corn, which is that it's a plant, a cereal, a staple of Midwestern farming.

But now imagine that same field of corn from a different perspective. Instead of standing on a farm, you're now in the midst of a crowded city street, dense with taxis and pedestrians. (And yet, for some peculiar reason, you're still thinking about corn.) The plant will no longer just be a plant: instead, your vast neural network will pump out all sorts of associations. You'll think about high-fructose corn syrup, obesity, and Michael Pollan; you'll contemplate ethanol and the Iowa caucus, those corn mazes for kids at state fairs and the deliciousness of succotash, made with bacon and lima beans. The noun is now a web of tangents, a loom of remote connections.

…We travel because we need to, because distance and difference are the secret tonic of creativity. When we get home, home is still the same. But something in our mind has been changed, and that changes everything.

Now, I know why I travel. It removes the cobwebs from my mind. It makes me the creative genius that I am.


ramesh said...

i think if you follow these spammers advise you will get more money to travel even more and eventually turn your blog into a new age bible ...

Priya Sivan said...

When you travel, home also gets space and at the same time your absence make them ready to give you a refreshing welcome whenever you come back. So you become a creatve genius and also indirectly help in creating more creative genii, because you travel.

Balajisblog said...

Raj - Most of us travel because that is what our job requires us to do. Keep it simple !
I am sure catching 0600hrs Jet to Mumbai / Del sure does not get your creative juices flowing...Balaji...