Saturday, October 13, 2012


One of the major functions of the brain is to fill in the gaps in our evaluations of the world. If we know that something exists but we have never seen or experienced it, our brain automatically does some informed imagining of it. Iceland? I've never been there, but my brain does a decent job of imagining it due to all that I've heard about it. I know it's more green than Greenland, the birthplace of Sigur Ros, has lots of beautiful hills,  etc. Australia? Malaysia? The Moon? It's all the same process.

The recent invention of video has done some closing on our imaginations, sure, but we still have to do quite a bit of imagining even when there is a photographic description of a place. Pixels on a light box (television, computer displays, etc.) are no more useful in terms of travel experiences than postcards.

But I wonder what the recent spread of scenic photographic technology has done to our desire to travel. When we see pictures or videos of things, we typically do not do a whole lot in the way of complex imagining. We break down and perhaps analyze what we see, sure, but we often do not try to envision much more. In a sense these formerly imagined places lose their curious magic as they are presented to us in a cheapened digital form. It is an easy and default thing to do -- to be slightly wowed with the awesomeness of a picture without further imagining the awesomeness of the actual and real place within the picture. Or, perhaps more accurately, without the picture.

There's a lot more to the Swiss Alps than the 4x4 grid of images that google gives you. There's a lot more to the Bahamas than what Sandals' marketing website shows you. But it's hard to remember to think that way sometimes. It's hard, because our brain does such a good job of filling in the gaps. Swiss Alps? "Yeah", says the brain, "I know what that's like. Pretty cool, but not worth the hassle of going there. Especially when you can experience it from your laptop." And often we listen to this default brain setting, because it's hard to dispel the current state of our imagination.

It's hard to say "no" to our imagination. It's hard to convince ourselves that we actually have no idea what the Swiss Alps are actually like. Or the Bahamas. Or, heck, 10 miles south of where you are right now. Or, even hecker, that spot 150 yards northwest of you. Your brain can tell you that you are aware of all these places, and that therefore they aren't really worth the travel (especially that spot ten miles to the south, especially-er that spot 150 yards to the northeast). But the truth is, you don't really know. I don't really know. We've been given a limited but ample time on earth. There are so many places. Let's go.