A Most Human Urge

[essay edited on same day]

The pooch and I went on an easy trail run last week. Most of the time we stick to paved telephone access roads in this area, but occasionally we’ll venture onto dirt biker and off-roading motorcyclist-hewn paths that wind around the gulch, shooting up to the lip before plunging back down. When we come upon a side trail, the dog and I crane our necks to peer down it, she pricks her ears, and we both wonder, “What’s over there?” “Where does it go?” Simple questions belying a powerful curiosity.

The curiosity of man, the drive to explore, has engendered:

  • The NASA Space Program
  • Ocean voyages by Henry the Navigator, Ferdinand Magellan, and Erik the Red, among others
  • Jacques Cousteau’s undersea exploration
  • Spelunking in wet and dry caves
  • African and Amazonian jungle safaris
  • Lewis’ and Clark’s expeditions

How is so much money thrown at merely getting the lay of the land?

We want to know: what’s over there?

What is it that drives such curiosity? Artificial intelligence lacks this quality.

Is the urge to explore more or less common than love? Stronger or weaker? Simpler? Can it be shared, like love? Or is it a solo experience and only felt by certain individuals? Is it like a recessive gene?

Elite athletes have an inwardly focused exploratory gene. How far can they go? What’s in them?

This exploratory urge may be the most unique thing about humans. We now know it’s not tools or language. Primates, fish, and otters use tools. Whales, dolphins, and primates communicate with language-like sounds specific to individual animals.

And exploring is not directly related to survival. The search for food, shelter, and safety is not necessary to want to look around and check out the place.

We want to see for ourselves, feel, and experience a new-to-us place.

Exploring for the hell of it—what truly separates man from animal. So…what explains my dog?


Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay

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