Monday, December 14, 2015

The walking brain

Paul Salopek is taking a really long walk. His friend asks: “Aren’t you tired?”
She is referring to my project, the “Out of Eden Walk.” I’m a journalist. I’m three years into a seven-year (or eight-year — O.K., maybe nine-year) foot journey from Africa to South America. I’m reporting stories at boot level along the pathways of our species’ first Stone Age exploration of the Earth. What my friend actually means, though, is: “Aren’t you bored?”
...I take a step. And then another. Each is new. Each is a gamble. Each is a negotiation with the substantial world that occasions an immediate, irreversible and tangible reward: I do not fall. And I move forward. Or, should I fall, I must overcome the obstacle with the most primordial collaboration of all: between mind and body.
“The hunter is the alert man,” writes the Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset. The hunter knows, Ortega y Gasset adds, that “the solution might spring from the least foreseeable spot on the great rotundity of the horizon.”
The walk is a hunt. It is a quality of alertness. There is something supple and deeply satisfying about this. Walking as a lifestyle is a moment-to-moment intellectual exercise that seems recollected, familiar. It electrifies the Stone Age brain that we all still carry with us: a restless brain, a brain that thirsts not just for change — our information age technology drenches us in novelty — but for tangible instead of symbolic progress. It is a brain that abhors routine. It is a brain that does not know boredom.
No, I’m not tired yet.
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