Why are we here?

We’ve been doing a lot of thinking about philosophy recently.

As part of the boys’ schoolwork we’ve been reading the excellent Sophie’s World, which with some serendipitous synchronicity was written in Norway. This has led to some great conversations about philosophy and religion. The book starts with the questions Who are you? and Why are you here? And that second question is particularly resonant at the moment in more practical than philosophical terms.

At one level the question is pertinent to Why are we in Oslo? The answer to that is simply that it’s the way the round the world ticket worked out best. Nothing more complicated than that. We had no burning desire to see anything here and there’s not a vast amount to see. And thanks to the wonders of travelling slowly and long-term there doesn’t really need to be more of a why to it than that. If there’s not a lot to see or do, we’re quite happy to sit about, do some schoolwork, read some books, soak the place in.

But sitting about in a foreign city gives rise to another sort of question: why are we here at all? If we’re sitting about doing not a lot, well we could be doing that at home just as well. Long-term travel seems to give rise to the question why? One of the bloggers we follow was recently trying to explain what she does to a more career-oriented person. It was clear that there was not, and never would be, a meeting of the minds. For one, a holiday and travel were simply a brief respite from normal life. For the other, holiday and travel were normal life.

All four of us have talked a lot about the possibility of continuing travelling next year. Putting the money thing to one side, it’s a deeply attractive thought. But it seems like a strange move. How do you make the decision to adopt travel as a life-style. Why would you opt for the strange and scary approach.

In Sophie’s World the author uses the analogy of the universe being a white rabbit pulled out of a magician’s hat. We humans are little fleas on the rabbit’s skin. Most of us fleas hunker down close to the skin and avoid dealing with nasty big questions, focussing instead on the daily things of television shows, sports, weather. The philosophers, he argues, climb up the rabbit’s hairs and try to get a view from their precarious vantage of the wider universe in which we live.

Travel of any sort is a bit like that; it’s climbing up the rabbit hair a way, or perhaps it’s moving from the base of one hair to another. Long-term travel is more like staying up here in the hairs and building bridges between them and not coming back down to the ground. It’s a great view but it’s not exactly safe, grounded, sensible.

Ah well, we’re only three chapters in to Sophie’s World. Perhaps by the end of the book we’ll have some answers.

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One thought on “Why are we here?”

  1. You know, you could ask the same question about staying in one place. Why be sedentary? Hardly anyone asks that because the people around you are also sedentary — while when traveling people ask you “Why?” because you’re the one who’s different.

    I traveled for 2 1/2 years in my early 20s. Immediately after that I moved to Oregon, where I’ve lived now for 15 years. (I’ve lived in the same town for 9 years!) I always thought of it as going deep rather than wide. Until I came here, I’d never lived anywhere for long, and I wanted to know what that felt like. I wondered what I could learn, if I stayed in one place. http://undertheponderosa.blogspot.com/2011/01/44-16.html

    Also … there is, I think, a fear of going back. If the traveler has changed, but everyone at home is the same, will that place still feel like home?

    PS I have really been enjoying the blog, thanks for letting me spy on your adventures! : )

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