I saw this on my Twitter feed this week; “lf you don’t know where you are going you’ll end up someplace else.” (Yogi Berra) And so what? What if somewhere else is better than where you were going? And how much more might you learn on the way there? Travel broadens the mind, they say but your mind has to be open to being changed.
I had an interesting conversation with some language colleagues recently about this. We were in Spain, all recipients of a scholarship to study Spanish at Salamanca University. Our discussion was about how speaking a language helped to understand the culture of the country and the people. We all spoke at least one other language than our own and we had all travelled widely. Some of us had lived in other countries and we reflected that we all had the “travel bug”. We wondered what prompts people to travel the world and to live in different countries. We do it to learn more about the world we live in , to learn about the people who inhabit our world, to learn about the history of the countries and how it has shaped the culture, the landscape, and the people . For adventure, for new experiences, to make friends , to meet new people.
On the plane from NZ to Madrid l watched two films which dealt with the idea of Artificial Intelligence – Chappie
and Ex Machina.
Just recently I read “For want of a Nail
” by Mary Robinette Kowal which, like the films raises some fascinating questions about identity and how we learn about who we are and our place in the world.
How is knowledge given to the “machine” or robot? Where does the intelligence come from? Whose intelligence is it? Can it “learn” or does it just acquire information or facts. Is it able to attach meaning to the information? Just like an online translation service the output is only as good as what has been input. The words are there but the nuances of the language are missing.
We can learn about the world from books, from the internet, we can “see” the world through the millions of photos , videos and TV documentaries and we can learn about cultures and people. But travel offers the chance to touch and feel and smell and taste and hear. How do you transfer those tangible aspects of knowledge to a machine? These are the things that give understanding and compassion to knowledge. Those two films and the book dwell on that idea of humanity. A sense of belonging to the world, of having your place in the world, interacting with people , the culture and the environment.
“Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible” said Frank Zappa. So as those of us with travel lust stand looking out across the ocean planning our next adventure we have to be careful not to just “collect ” experiences like souvenirs. We mustn’t allow information to be simply stored in our database. We need to go out of our way, deviate from the norm, go off the beaten track, immerse ourselves and be open to having our perceptions challenged. To truly learn we have to connect with people and touch, feel, see, smell and taste and we must let those experiences inform who we are and make a difference to our lives.