Exploring beyond frontiers – Part 1
Nothing ventured, nothing gained. There are people who crave for challenge, adventure and new frontiers. As a consequence they go base jumping or climb Mount Everest. Others will follow their blog posts, look at the jumpers’ and climbers’ GoPro films, meanwhile feeling entirely at ease with their weekly bridge drive. Most researchers do not take up the risky sports, they will plunge into science.
The gene for adventure
The wish to explore, the seeking for sensation and the craving for novel experiences seem to have a biochemical common ground: a gene. This DRD4-7R dopamine-receptor variant on chromosome 11, is in a lot of research appointed as the adventure gene which explains it all (with enough research countering these findings). One fifth of all humans carry this 7R-gene variant, which accounts for their curiosity and restlessness and an overall longing for change and adventure.
What is adventure? In accordance with the Oxford Dictionary:
- An unusual and exciting or daring experience
- Excitement associated with danger or the taking of risks
- A reckless or potentially hazardous action or enterprise
The origin is found in the Latin ‘adventurus’, coming from ‘advenire’: to arrive.
Adventure Journal recently posted an article, titled “Why are there so few women’s adventure films?” by contributing editor Hilary Oliver. Thoughts on whether or not there could be an explanation found in the 7R gene, arise from this question. Is it more common in men than in women for instance? It seems not to be the case. Sensation-seeking, however, in general is higher in men than in women. It peaks in the late teens and early twenties and declines with age. The levels of testosterone follow the same path. Not surprisingly, the inclination for sensation-seeking will convey into everyday life too, not only in taking up risky sports. Marvin Zuckerman, who ‘discovered’ the 7R gene variant developed a personality test (the Sensation Seeking Scale) designed to measure a person’s predilection for:
- Adventure-seeking and thrill-seeking
- Boredom susceptibility.
“Subsequent research suggests that high sensation-seeking reaches into every aspect of people’s lives, affecting engagement in risky sports, relationship satisfaction before and during marriage, tastes in music, art and entertainment, driving habits, food preferences, job choices and satisfaction, humor, creativity and social attitudes.” (Christopher Munsey)
Most people fall in the middle of the scale, they are the vast majority in between. High sensation seekers with their crave for novel experiences at one end, and low sensation-seekers avoiding excitement and new experiences in an active way at the other end. Meanwhile the internet has changed our life by providing access to all sorts of adventures. Ranging from most viewed YouTube funny home videos to TED and science lectures, both facts and fairy tale like stories are feeding our hunger for knowledge every new day.
We want to know. Crossing Arctic plains on one’s own, with a dogsled only, or learning more about the stretch of geologic history, referred to as Deep time. Like in Deep space, or outer space, time as an element has to be conceived on another scale: we have to think in much larger units of time to understand. Indeed, the story of man is a tale of expanding our world and exploring the unknown. New frontiers have been reached by travels over land and over the seas, as well as journeys and experiments directed by man’s most powerful instrument: the capacity to reason. Adventuring into unfamiliar territory is a continuation of the process of going forward and beyond. Of being on the road to progress. In the 21th century the surface of our planet is explored. The longing for adventure is like the Olympic flame. It will not extinguish. We are now launching space rockets, conquering the universe and mapping the Moon and Mars. The images of celestial bodies are an awe-inspiring sight, demonstrating our strengths as well as the transitory nature of life that is ours.
The oldest known world map: Mesopotamia
It has been an interesting and fruitful route so far, the report on one’s findings displaying experiences as well as the people’s belief, in those ancient times their frame of reference. The clay tablet that has come down to us from Antiquity is the oldest known world map, the Babylonian Imago Mundi, ca. 600 BCE. This unique map, incised on a clay tablet, and discovered on the east bank of the Euphrates River, shows the known world from the perspective of Babylonia: the Mesopotamian world. Although the map is the oldest known relic of ancient geography, its purpose was more to explain the Babylonian view of the mythological world. There are cities, a river, a mountain, a ‘river of bitter water’ meaning the salt sea, and regions where strange and mythical beasts as well as heroes would live. It does not compare to our detailed topographic maps, of course. Yet here is our search for adventure, preserved in clay. Now in the British Museum.
(To be continued)
- The featured image shows spiral galaxy NGC 6744 from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer WISE. Its location is in a constellation in the southern sky. NGC 6744 is about 30 million light-years away. Compared to other local galaxies, this sibling galaxy is very similar to our Milky Way galaxy. (credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA Photo ID:756777).
- Hilary Oliver in Adventure Journal, Why Are There So Few Women’s Adventure Films?
- Christopher Munsey, Frisky, but more risky – High sensation-seekers’ quest for new experiences leads some to the high-stress jobs society needs done but makes others vulnerable to reckless behavior. In: Monitor on Psychology, July/August 2006, Vol. 37 no. 7. (link to article)
- David Dobbs in National Geografic on Restless Genes, and an interactive gallery portraying risk takers. Find more on Dobbs’ website Neuron Culture.
Featured image: Sibling galaxy, NASA (date taken: 06-09-2010). NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA