The importance of exploration.

Posted: July 9, 2013 in Teaching, Writing

So, here I am sitting in Panera Bread thinking about what to work on for the day.
I could work on the notes for my Honors class.
Nah, I’ve finished most of the year already, and I need to focus on something else for a while.
What about reworking that children’s book I started for a class last year?
Interesting thought, but I don’t have that with me at the moment.
Then it dawned on me. I should develop an idea I have for a group of adventurers. This is an idea that started to get traction in the back of my mind back during the school year, and I am starting to picture the major players quite well. I have always liked stories that involved some kind of exploration and I started to think about why this is so. I am going to attempt to explain it to all of you in order to see if it all makes sense.
When the human species first came to prominence on this planet we were largely nomadic. The seasonal changes meant that food ‘moved’ and we had to move with it. This was basically early exploration, and it is a trait that ensured survival of our race. A little later in our evolutionary travels we developed other traits that made it unnecessary to move around just for the sake of food, yet it is evident that there was still a great amount of exploration that took place. There are many thoughts about the reasons for this, but I conjecture that it is still highly tied to survival. If you stayed in the same location as where you were born there was an increased risk of inbreeding. This would lead to an increased appearance of some negative traits in a population. By being willing to explore and look for new locations to live in we have been able to increase the variety of traits in our species. This, in turn, has lead to us being the only species that exists on every continent and in so many varied environments. These early beginnings in exploration are ingrained in our genome, thus the attraction to stories of exploration.
Now, for me this is only the tip of the iceberg. For me exploration is about so much more than survival. It is about living. I have had the blessing of having been able to travel to foreign countries several times in my life, and there is something truly invigorating about doing so. I remember walking through the convoluted and narrow streets of Toledo, Spain and just imagining the times when the city was originally being built. I could picture the knights and kings parading through on their way through. I imagined the difficulties that invading armies would have had taking over the city and the importance of the street layout for defense. By comparison today’s cities have streets wide enough for even our largest warmachines to go down three or four abreast. The only defense is to hope that our tanks are better than theirs.
Let us not forget the exploration that can occur through our food. I thank, very much, the person who was hungry enough and brave enough to look at a lobster or crab and decide that it might not make a bad meal. I only wish that fewer people were in on the secret nowadays so that the price was lower, but oh well. I also love eating foods from multiple cultures, and if possible I seek out the authentic restaurants as often as possible. Mexican food is so much richer in flavors than anyone could experience at some restaurants that I know of. Heat is such a small component to their food yet it is what most people focus on. It is a shame, as some of my favorites don’t include chiles at all, and I am a guy that has all sorts of chile sauces in my refrigerator at all times. The exploration around the world that we can take through food culture only adds to life’s experiences.
The final reason I love the idea of exploration is about discovery. When humans explore space we are looking for the unknown. When scientists conduct their explorations they are trying to answer questions about how the universe works. They want to discover the universe. When I read I do it to discover the universe that the author created. I want to know more about how things work in that universe. Do people age the same? What are the diseases? What counts as wealth? These are things that a well crafted book shows me. They are what I yearn for as I read.
To tie everything together for all of you who read, write, or teach, especially the latter two, let me say the following: We need to remember that the base desire for exploration exists in every human to some extent or another. We, as a species, crave to expand our borders in one way or another. We also desire experience life, to live more than just survive. Sure, a story can be about survival, but it needs to be an experience as well. The same is true in a classroom. Our students want experiences, the chance to use what they learn. They may seem to resist, but if you don’t give in they will shine. By giving experiences to our characters, our students, ourselves, we give all the chance to discover something new. We give them the chance to explore further.

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