Monday, September 26, 2011

Approaching the Problem of Air Travel Creatively

From "Tank Girl: The Odessey" (film)

"We travel because we need to, because distance and difference are the secret tonic of creativity."  
Jonah Lehrer

How can someone like me who bikes to save a gallon or two of gas, justify air travel?  Spewing CO2 into the atmosphere, burning fuel like water, contributing to vapor trails, air pollution and climate change?

Where to begin?

First with a nod to human engineering.  We can fly.  I can't get over it.  We can get something off the ground with 500 people on board, travel at 600 miles an hour for 7000 miles.  Imagine what else we might accomplish? This cries out for celebration.  Preferably with a long trip.

Not convinced?  How about this:  long distance travel is good for you. Getting out of the groove, subjecting yourself to odd hours, a new language and finding your way around strange places -- unlocks creativity. A recent study asked two groups of students to list as many kinds of transportation as they could. They were told that this was for a project developed by American students who were either (a) in Greece or (b) in Indiana. When they believed they were helping students in Indiana, the participants listed things like cars and buses. When they believed they were participating in a study that came from Greece, they came up with a more imaginative list:  trams, Segway, space travel.

In another project, researchers found that people who had lived abroad were able to negotiate and solve puzzles more creatively than people who had not lived abroad.

When we're at home, our brains block out all but what we really need.  This tends to limit thinking to concrete terms (hungry, MacDonalds, eat).  When we are out of our element, we think more abstractly, and that allows us to make different, broader connections (MacDonald's, trans fats, big American bottoms).  

From "SuperSize Me" 

I wonder why this might be?  Perhaps pre-humans wandering around looking for fresh meat and places to hide from mastodons had an evolutionary advantage over more sedentary species.

Whatever the reason, we are going to need a lot of creativity to deal with a *!#?-load of self-inflicted world problems, caused by things like ....  air travel.

Sources:  "Lessons from a Faraway land: The effect of spatial distance on creative cognition," Jia, Hirt, Karpen,; "INSEAD Research Shows Going Abroad Linked to Creativity," Wm. Maddox, et al,; "An Easy Way to Increase Creativity," Shapira & Liberman,


  1. From Andy, via e-mail:

    It's a good thing, isn't it, to read about quantum events, which rule our world and frustrate our attempts to make simple sense of everything? Big help!

    Maybe it's a good thing we can barely intuit how things really work. If we were all wizards in math, who knows how much more quickly we would screw things up.

    Lately, there has been much talk about rapid global warming and concurrent CO2 production that happened 54 million years ago, too long ago for accurate readings from geologic formations but not so long ago that enthusiasts on both sides of this issue gleefully speculate about what is happening to us now.

    I wonder about this global warming conundrum. Was there a gradual warming which reached a critical point that caused a massive release of methane? I think not, because the earth was already very warm before this sudden rise in CO2; but it makes me wonder whether or not it is worth worrying about pollution due to air travel.
    I can hear the gods laughing at our follies.

  2. Ain't that the truth. It's so easy to think of the world in simple terms. Maybe it helps us from going nuts. Thanks for the visit.


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