I did not want to like this book. I definitely did not want to love this book. My reasoning for this is unimportant, but I expected that mentality to ensure my distaste. Wrong. I thoroughly enjoyed Travels. I would maybe even venture to say it was my favorite book from this past year.
Travels chronicles Crichton’s experiences between 1971 and 1986 with an intro chapter about his time at Harvard Medical School from 1965 through 1969. His experiences range from bending spoons to climbing Mount Kilimanjaro to seeing auras to diving with sharks. Crichton ends each chapter with his interpretation of the deeper meaning of his experience, however, he doesn’t attempt to spew life lessons at the reader. Rather, he is introspective and thoughtfully examines what he learned from each of his experiences, from each of his travels.
Crichton has a scientific background, as his opening chapter about medical school entails, but his stories mainly center around the things science cannot explain. He spends much of his time learning about psychic phenomena, altered states of consciousness, energies such as auras and other things that the scientific community would scoff at. In his final chapter, titled “Skeptics at Cal Tech,” Crichton makes compelling arguments for the validity of these phenomena. Or rather, he argues why science should not be put on a pedestal above these things. Science has its frauds, too. Science has made mistakes in the past. Science does not always provide an accurate depiction of the world as we know it.
Scientists tend to think they are superior to those involved in the paranormal. They think they are more intelligent and therefore always right. I will admit, I fell into this boat of disbelief and superiority prior to reading his story. Even still, I would require more concrete evidence to be swayed to believe in these phenomena. Psychics have always seemed so foolish to me. (Admittedly, I have never actually gone to one.) There is always an explanation for why a psychic would ‘know’ something. Crichton’s experiences made me think otherwise. Maybe there is more to it. Maybe the fact that science cannot explain it does not prove that it is not legitimate.
I highlighted countless passages and wanted to share some of these sections. Unfortunately, as I run back through and read the parts I highlighted, I fear they won’t do the stories justice. For one, there is so much context that needs to be understood around each quotation and two, so much of this story is about interpretation. For me, it is about how I can apply these philosophies in my life. I do not wish to bore you with those details. Travels is really a book that I would rather discuss in an open dialogue than write about (I say as I’ve already written 500 words…)
Here is one quote that, even out of context, can be understood:
“Unaccustomed to direct experience, we can come to fear it. We don’t want to read a book or see a museum show until we’ve read the reviews so that we know what to think. We lose the confidence to perceive for ourselves. We want to know the meaning of an experience before we have it.”
This really hit home with me. He put something that I didn’t even know I did into words. My first goal after finishing Travels is to have less fear of direct experience. To spend less time researching the next thing to do and more time experiencing the world around me. I know I will often fail, but I will try. First step – to not look at every item on every menu before I choose and go to a restaurant. This will be a very real challenge.
Overall, Crichton has inspired me to travel more (with a less rigid schedule and more unknowns), to be more open to non-scientific explanations, and to be more introspective with my experiences. I also think I will attempt to begin meditating. I have not slept well in what feels like months. Two or three in the morning rolls around and my brain thinks it is an excellent time to contemplate life. I even take melatonin a couple of nights a week and while I fall asleep faster, I cannot for the life of me stay asleep anymore. Hopefully, I can learn to clear my mind through meditation and get a good nights rest before the end of 2018. Anyways, I could not recommend this book more to everyone. This is not a story for any one type of person. Everyone has something to gain from reading Travels.
As I have started to read more nonfiction, I find it increasingly difficult to dive back into fiction. I’ve decided to read The Black Swan next (not to be confused with Natalie Portman’s psychological thriller, Black Swan). If anyone has any suggestions for more great nonfiction reads, please leave a comment below!