Besides, of course, the human tragedy.
“Hey Lincoln, you have to cancel your trip to Japan.”
This sentence still resonates inside of me. A few days before departure, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared coronavirus was a global pandemic. Japan was my dream come true to explore a new culture, new architecture, new food, new everything.
In my opinion, one of the most critical consequences of Covid-19 is not being able to travel (besides, of course, the human tragedy).
Over the months of confinement, while learning to work remotely, I’ve written a book to understand why it affects me that much.
In August 2020, I joined Medium because I wanted to share what I’ve discovered during my research. I am starting to publish my work; thus, so far, I have zero views on my stories. And it doesn’t matter since what makes me happy is having uncovered a world that I didn’t know before: Medium. Also, I am no longer reading sad and demoralizing news. Not to mention that writing is the new thing for me.
So, I was interested in the following question:
Why do humans need to explore?
Bookstores closed, I grabbed some old National Geographics that I had at home. Two magazines were right on my topic:
- “The Search for Our Ancestors,” Kenneth F. Weaver, National Geographic (November 1985).
- “Why We Explore,” Special Issue National Geographic (January 2013).
“The compulsion to see what lies beyond that far ridge or that ocean — or this planet — is a defining part of human identity and success.” — David Dobbs, “Restless Genes,” National Geographic (Jan. ‘13).
It is Homo Erectus who started to travel. His ancestors had been around for three million years, and suddenly he began to move. Why? Why not the others before him? Milford Wolpoff of the University of Michigan offers: “They left when they did because they wanted to, because they had to, and especially because they could.”
The difference with his ancestors is the size of his brain. He can control the fire and cook. He creates his tools; otherwise, he wouldn’t survive. But there is something more about him. He is equipped with sophisticated new technology, a fundamental characteristic. Human Intellectual Curiosity.
The author of “The Search for Our Ancestors,” Kenneth F. Weaver, writes, “he must have wanted to see what was on the other side of the mountain.”, and continues with “Beyond that, he may have had to leave Africa because of population pressure.”
Homo Erectus can exploit the environment, so the population increased. The consequence is that resources are rarified; therefore, he needs to find another place. He begins to move.
Fast forward in history, and this is how our ancestors populated the planet.
Interestingly, there is also evidence of pandemic episodes in their era, as they ate “new things.” It is always surprising how much we can learn about ourselves by reading history.
In the caves, we find all kinds of artworks. What we do know is that someone wanted to tell their story. Sharing our experiences through art and leaving an ‘I was here’ mark seems to be part of our human instinct portfolio.
“Ever since our species left Africa some 60,000 years ago, the urge to push beyond what’s known — to discover new lands and opportunities — has shaped human culture. And that impulse is still strong. ” — “The New Age of Exploration,” National Geographic (Jan. ‘13)
The quote ‘sky is the limit’ is not accurate anymore. David Scott, mission commander, radioed to Earth from Apollo 15 in 1971 a sentence that sums up our human nature:
“I realize there’s a fundamental truth to our nature — man must explore.” — David Scott, NatGeo (Jan. ‘13)
Cory Richards, the alpinist who climbed 26,362 feet with his group in Pakistan, describes the feeling associated with his type of exploration:
“Climbing is akin to love. It’s hard to explain; we endure pain for the joy that comes with discovering ourselves and the planet. ” — Cory Richards, NatGeo (Jan. ‘13)
DRD4–7R: the gene for curiosity
As discussed in the article “Restless Genes” by David Dobbs, some scientists hypothesized that if the human urge to explore is innate; then, we would have this property from birth, an inscription in our genome. The same human instinct as to when your friend yawns in front of you, you yawn automatically.
The scientists were right. They found that the DRD4–7R gene is linked to human curiosity and restlessness, where DRD4 helps us control dopamine, “a chemical brain messenger important in learning and reward.” David Dobbs explains that the gene “makes people more likely to take risks; explore new places, ideas, foods, relationships, drugs, or sexual opportunities; and generally embrace movement, change, and adventure.”
According to the studies, the DRD4–7R gene is carried by approximately 20% of the human population. Kenneth Kidd, Yale University evolutionary and population geneticist, adds that it is not just one gene that would push us to explore but also a group of genes and several particular traits.
“It helps, in short, to think not just of the urge to explore but of the ability, not just the motivation but the means. Before you can act on the urge, you need the tools or traits that make exploration possible. ” — David Dobbs, “Restless Genes,” NatGeo
My understanding is that we all have a natural curiosity. The urge for exploration and adventure, on the other hand, can vary from individual to individual. However, I have the feeling that when someone is exposed to a new experience, she/he can quickly jump on the boat. The first blocker is probably having the actual idea of going on a new adventure (and to select one in particular). That’s why I think we need to feed our soul with new ideas continuously.
Our ancestors’ story and the researches on the DRD4–7R gene would then reject the thesis that my addiction to travel is a whim. It is a need.
Curiosity: a human happiness path
I will soon be turning 40, and anxiety has been part of many instances of my life. In 2020, thanks to buddy COVID, morale has been put under a lot of stress.
My secret remedy is to keep my intellectual curiosity up and running. It makes me feel alive. It allows me to avoid depression incidents. I need it as much as a junkie needs a drug. Or else, I feel lost in the wind. I need to connect with the universe, feel that my existence is worth it, that I make the most of the opportunity to be on Earth.
Even though the pandemic has prevented us from travelling, everything is accessible under our fingers to enrich our existence. But of course, we have to choose the right information. And scrolling Facebook all day long is not part of the human happiness path.
We can’t travel, nor we can’t control it. Instead of waiting that life comes back to normal (what is ‘normal’ anyway?), we need to find alternative ways to explore. By keeping our curiosity healthy, we are doing a favour for our body and soul.
The pandemic has not only adverse effects. It enables us to review our habits and the way we spend (not waste) our time. By turning off the part of our brain that worries about life and turning on our curiosity, I believe it motivates us to take avenues that we would never have imagined if we didn’t have “the opportunity” to stop and brainstorm.
Many scientific discoveries happened when the human look at the thing from a different angle.
- Occupy your intellectual curiosity to keep your spirit up despite the situation;
- Dream to clear your mind from dark clouds;
- Explore to understand better the world in which we live.
The goal is to dig out what gives us peace of mind and satisfaction in life; external situations should not matter or interfere in that scheme. This is, in my humble opinion, what makes life extraordinary.