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Alterity – The Altered Consciousness State of Travel

Shots of Awe

Travel is an altered state of consciousness. I think that when we travel, what we are after is ‘alterity’. What we are after is a de-familiarizing shock. The same kind of shock that’s necessary for aesthetic appreciation. Objects of beauty by design are strange. They are different from the everyday. In other words, we need to be catapulted into noticing something we haven’t seen before and that requires this de-contextualization from the everyday.

Travel being an altered state of consciousness because, when you travel, you’re leaving everything you know behind. All your conceptual maps about reality, all the rules and framework related to the normal world in which you dwell are upended. When you are exposed to a different culture, when you are exposed to a different language and all of a sudden, that de-familiarization, that sense of first sight, unencumbered by knowingness, it hurls you into the present. It puts you into a state of flow, into a state of openness. You don’t carry around that screen of preconceptions, that been theirs and done that.

To the adult mind travel, in essence, functions very much like the museum. A museum takes ordinary objects or ideas and removes them from context that hangs them on a wall. All art does that and by removing the ordinary, the everyday object from its context, you’re able to see it as it is for the first time. You’re able to contemplate it without its usual wallpaper, without its usual backdrop.

A great example might be this ship I have behind me. The front of the ship removed from context placed as an art installation piece, all of a sudden takes on a quality that is incredibly novel. That is incredibly arresting, it can be beholden, you can behold the object removed from its familiar sort of framing and so, what that does? I don’t know, it awakens curiosity and awakens wonder. It awakens contemplative introspection. This is the function of art. This is the fun of ‘alterity’. This is the function of travel.

It’s about consciousness. It’s about seeing the world differently and the cognitive benefits that those kinds of experience, kind of privileged perception, affords us.


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