I talk a lot about exploration and encourage people to engage in it, but what exactly am I talking about? I’m sure you could find a dictionary definition of “exploration” in less time than it will take you to read this, but I don’t think that a dictionary definition would give you the feel of what it truly means. I think the best way for me to describe what exploration is is to tell you what an explorer is, and why it is important.
What is an Explorer?
Every person is born an explorer. If you watch a baby or a toddler you will see an overwhelming sense of curiosity around everything they do. Why does a child start crawling? To see what is “over there.” Why do they stand up for the first time? To see what is “up there.” To a certain extent, the purest form of an explorer is a child, who is seeing everything for the first time.
At some point many people lose that draw for exploration. Figuring out why they lose it is a topic for someone’s thesis not a blog post, but many factors from education to family can affect it. Some people decide they know everything they care about, others just don’t see the point in finding new things or going to new places.
An explorer is someone who sees a mountain and asks “I wonder what is up there?” An explorer gets distracted from a conversation with a friend by a bird flying by that they hadn’t seen yet that year. An explorer is constantly looking for new things to see, learn and do.
An explorer doesn’t need to focus on “nature” to be an explorer. An explorer could examine human psychology, or the intricacies of mathematics. The important thing is that the explorer is looking for something that they have never seen before.
Why is this Important?
If you don’t immediately see the value of exploring something “because it is there,” there are other reasons this mentality is useful and important. This exploration drives inventions of new technologies, assists in discovering rules and exceptions that define our world, and gives meaning to our lives.
When someone first said, “let’s climb Mt. Everest,” they couldn’t accomplish that in a day. It took time to develop the technologies that could sustain a person to the highest point on Earth. Similarly, when President Kennedy said that we would go to the moon within ten years, the rockets to get a man safely into space were barely in existence. The similar challenge we have now, that I have often heard dismissed as pointless, of getting a person to Mars requires similar advancement to accomplish. By having a goal, energy is focused into advancement, rather than minor improvements.
When Darwin discovered the Finches of the Galapagos he wasn’t on the ship looking for evidence of evolution. Darwin was a naturalist aboard a ship exploring the ocean. Because of this exploration and careful observations he discovered evidence for rules that govern our biological world. This is the first example that comes to my mind as a biologist, but I’m sure he is not alone.
Lastly, Humans live their lives looking for meaning. If you ask someone alive when Apollo 11 landed on the moon where they were they can probably tell you. The exploration of a new world excited and inspired a whole generation of people. “Manifest Destiny” in the early days of the United States could be said to be the same drive. This drive to expand and explore has brought good things and bad things, but overall it created meaning for humans to follow.