Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Deep Travel, Part II: Modular Subselves, Wide-Angle Awareness, Fundamental Drives

It's been a long time---sorry for the delays! This second installment in the Deep Travel series will look at some current research that seems to support the idea of a "wide-angle awareness" mode that can be cultivated through adventure travel experiences. A future post will look at the possibility that a lifestyle based around frequent,loosely-structured trips and expeditions could develop this interesting and mysterious psychological capacity. EDIT: I stupidly misspelled "Porges" as "Borges" on the first draft; should be corrected now.

Modular Minds, SEEKING System, and SMR

In order to make sense of this post, a few ideas probably need to be chained together. I'll start with a basic tenet of evolutionary biology and then move through a short list of related ideas, keeping them as short and concise as I can (most of them have been covered in previous blog posts):

1. A human being is a vehicle for Survival and Successful Reproduction (SSR). The Survival component means making it to sexual maturity; Successful Reproduction requires both finding a suitable mate and keeping the resulting, highly vulnerable offspring alive until they themselves reach sexual maturity. After this, we become increasingly disposable from a gene's point of view (and may in fact reach a point where we represent a threat to our own genetic legacy by sticking around long after we are reproductively or protectively "useful" and increasing the competition for scarce resources).

As Matt Ridley has put it: "Like Copernicus and Darwin, Williams and Hamilton dealt a humiliating blow to human self-importance. Not only was the human being just another animal, but it was also the disposable plaything and tool of a committee of self-interested genes."

Points 2 and 3 link the strategic goals of the organism with human evolutionary psychology:

2. In order to accomplish our SSR mandate, we come equipped with certain fundamental drives. These drives, acting both independently and in concert with one another and then interacting with other people and situations, form the basis for what is commonly referred to as "human nature."

The drives of human nature are functionally based on a concept of self: we can transcend the sense of self when we attach ourselves to causes, organizations, or mobs; we can retreat into a more limited and defensive sense of self when we feel alienated, lonely, or humiliated.

3. The fundamental drives are made operational by a complex mental phenomena we will term a sense of self. The sense of self is used to conduct rough cost/benefit assessments by comparing one's current predicament with possibilities; when a possibility looks like it will be favorable to our fundamental drives, the sense of self elicits positive Approach-oriented emotions; when an unfavorable situation arises, negative Withdrawal-oriented emotions are generated.

Point 4 recruits Polyvagal Theory:

4. At the neural level, the basic Approach-Withdrawal responses may be mediated by the vagus nerve. According to the fascinating Polyvagal Theory developed by Stephen Porges, the vagus nerve's deep penetration into the medulla region of the brain has two branches: the "DMNX" branch originates in the dorsal motor nucleus, while the "NA" branch originates in the nucleus ambiguus (note: it is technically incorrect to label the vagus a single nerve; it represents a cluster of nerves concerned with autonomic regulation of the heart and digestion).

Porges is specifically concerned with neural regulation of the heart and the effect that this has on emotions. He observes that the human organism has two primary responses when it interacts with other organisms in its environment:

(1) Assess risks. Default to hardwired defensive behaviors (i.e., those are "on tap" and ready for immediate deployment)

(2) If the situation is safe, inhibit the hardwired defensive reactions (the "4Fs" of Freezing to avoid detection, Flight to escape, Fighting to survive, and Freezing again to play dead if all else fails) and engage with an exploration strategy.

Polyvagal Theory offers us a framework for organizing our thoughts on how the vagus nerve can suppress physiological excitement in order to allow for social behavior (Porges calls this suppression quality "high NA vagal tone" because the projection into the nucleus ambiguus is involved).

A simplistic explanation of Polyvagal Theory might say that a mammal confronting another animal has three neural-hardwired basic reactions:

(1) Freeze (regulated by vagal DMNX circuit)
(2) Fight or Flight (regulated by sympathetic nervous system)
(3) Social engagement (regulated by vagal NA circuit; involves suppression of sympathetic nervous system)

Social animals must possess a way to dial down the effects of fight or flight; doing so involves the activation of the vagal NA pathway, which is what creates the neural background "noise" of high NA vagal tone. In other words, high NA vagal tone indicates that heart rate is being lowered and the animal is being internally calmed.

In the future, I will have much more to say about Polyvagal Theory and a brain structure called the "HPA Axis", and how these may relate to decision-making under stress and uncertainty, but for now we could simplistically state that Approach-Withdrawal behaviors should be thought of as deep, physiological events rather than just abstract, highly conscious thought patterns.

Point 5 re-introduces the work of researcher Jaak Panksepp:

5. Beyond quick and rough Polyvagal reactions, strategies for Approach and Withdrawal are based on a system of emotional circuits. There appear to be at least seven: SEEKING, FEAR, RAGE, LUST, CARE, PANIC, and PLAYfulness. Together, they form an amazing neural complex that Jaak Panksepp has termed the emotional command system.

(Jaak Panksepp)


"...These systems make organisms "active agents" in the world: animals that seek to engage and understand affectively relevant world events as opposed to simply being passive stimulus-response or information-processing behavioral robots."

One exciting area of research is the integration of Polyvagal Theory with Panksepp's emotional command systems. As of now, it appears that the vagal modulation prepares the heart for a heart rate that will match the attendant emotions. An interesting feedback loop develops---one that would be anticipated by practitioners of the Feldenkrais Method and other therapeutic bodywork disciplines. When you experience an emotion, you may also, on a certain level, look inward to make sure that the emotion is reinforced by a matching heart rate. If there is a mismatch, the emotional experience could be short-lived. Thus, the ability to use techniques that target breathing and heart rate may be indispensable tools for actually changing the emotional experience that attends an event.

As a very rough and flawed analogy, one might think of the different command systems as gears in a transmission, and the vagal responses (most notably heart rate) as the clutch that facilitates the shifting of gears. When we use phrases such as "speaking from the heart" or ask someone to reflect on "what her heart says", we may actually be getting at a deeper truth.

Point 6 narrows in on one element of Panksepp's system of emotional cicuits, the so-called "SEEKING" system that could also be described as the innate drive to learn:

6. One particular circuit of the emotional command system, the SEEKING subsystem, encourages gaining knowledge about the environment by using dopamine to make certain types of learning very pleasurable. Neuroscientist David Linden explains it this way:

"The same dopamine neurons that signal the expected amount of pleasure from water also signal the expectation of information, even when that information cannot be put to any use. The monkeys (and presumably humans as well) are getting a pleasure buzz from the information itself...To my thinking, this (is) revolutionary. It suggests that something utterly useless and abstract---knowing merely for the sake of knowing---can engage the pleasure/reward circuitry...ideas (can be) like addictive drugs...the neuroscientist Read Montague, weaving together several strands of thought in cognitive neuroscience from a number of investigators, calls the human ability to take pleasure in abstract ideas a 'superpower.'"

Point 7 gets us from the SEEKING system to a brain state called "sensorimotor rhythm" (unlike the other points, this one does involve a speculative leap into poorly-charted territory):

7. The dopamine pathways employed by the SEEKING subsystem use anticipation as a pleasurable sensation, then deliver a second punch when the reward does arrive (much of the joy of learning stems from developing and successfully testing these pattern-recognition maps and using them to solve problems). Under optimal conditions, the brain wave produced by someone who is in the thrall of the SEEKING system---a state that combines dopamine-salted anticipation with both physical readiness and a background of psychological serenity---has special characteristics and has been termed the sensorimotor rhythm, or SMR spindle.

However, the SMR remains rather mysterious at this point and the links between it and an aroused SEEKING system have never, to my knowledge, been formally presented. I make the connection here because I think this would be a potentially very interesting field of research.

Finally, Point 8 makes the ability to enter an SMR-rich state into a desirable goal from the standpoint of positive psychology:

8. The cultivation of sustained and healthy SEEKING system arousal---thought to be highly correlated with SMR---is the goal of a Deep Travel experience. Possibly, SMR is another name for the transcendent "enlightenment" that is sought by practitioners of some ancient philosophical and religious traditions.

Panksepp himself has made strong remarks regarding the opportunity to (after developing a rigorous understanding of the command systems) systematically harness the power of the SEEKING system to increase quality of life:

"...the SEEKING system, a most intriguing and highly generalized emotional system---one that all the others emotional systems may depend on for their own appointed affairs. ...arousal of the SEEKING system feels good in a special way, but this good feeling is not at all like a consummatory reward. It is the epicenter of the excitement of living, much of which consists of the pursuit of rewards. Perhaps the SEEKING system needs to be recruited for all highly effective educational and psychotherapeutic activities."

Fundamental Drives and Multiple Subselves

(Maslow's original Pyramid of Human Needs)

Recently, the evolutionary psychologist Douglas Kenrick has produced an updated version of Abraham Maslow's famous pyramid of human needs. The new model has similar base components to the Maslow one, but it retains evolutionary specificity where the Maslow pyramid gets into transcendent needs.

(Kenrick's updated version of the Pyramid contains, in ascending order, needs related to immediate physiological survival, physical security, group affiliation/belonging, elevated status within a group, acquiring a mate, retaining a mate, and parenting)

Supporting the work of people like Gerd Gigerenzer, Kenrick and his collaborators believe that the current conflict within economics over rational decision-making---the efficient markets theorists have created a "representative agent" human being who seeks to maximize his utility in mathematically optimal ways, while the behavioral economists look at ways that human beings tend to make decisions that are sharply at odds with classical rationality---fails to take into account the evolutionary context of human decision problems and the modular, toolkit model of the mind.

To Kenrick, the idea of a single, tightly-integrated self which makes executive decisions is obsolete, and should be replaced with a mind of multiple, functional subselves that can make decisions in different ways, depending on the context in which the problem is presented. The subself components obviously correspond to Kenrick's pyramid of human needs; each module is "in charge" of managing a different recurring human problem.

(thanks to the work of men like Doug Kenrick, shown here, and his celebrated colleague Robert Cialdini, the psychology department at Arizona State University has become an intellectual sweetshop for leading works in the exciting field of evolutionary psychology)


The essential point---which will be borne out as we look at more of the work that my colleagues and I have done---is that in order to understand how and what the human mind computes, one must place it in an evolutionary, ecological context. If we want to know why the mind works in a certain way, we must ask how and in what circumstances it would be beneficial to do so. Our brains seem to allocate resources in ways designed to best promote survival and reproduction...

The idea of functional subselves has guided my team's research on what we call "fundamental motives". When you are under the influence of a different functional motive, such as mating or self-protection, you are a different person---you notice different things and you remember different things, and that leads you to respond differently to the same situation.

At any given moment, only one of these subselves is running the show. When you are worried about the band of knife-wielding thugs who just walked around the corner, you are not thinking of romancing your date. Some of your subselves have common goals---befriending a neighbor could simultaneously serve affiliative, self-protective, and parenting goals, for example. But some of them have incompatible goals---your Swinging-Single subself and your Good Spouse subself being the most obvious example.

To make the framework more accessible to non-scientists, Kenrick has proposed colloquial names for the seven different subself components: the Team Player is concerned with problems related to affiliation; the Go-Getter is a status-seeking program; the Night Watchman is concerned with self-protection; the Compulsive is in charge of avoiding sickness and disease; the Swinging Single wants to acquire high-quality mating opportunities; the Good Spouse wants to retain a quality mate; the Parent manages childcare.

In contrast to Maslow's pyramid, wherein the more base and primitive needs are transcended as one moves up the pyramid, Kenrick's approach notes that all of the needs coexist, sometimes peacefully and sometimes not, and remain active. A "higher" module is built on top of, rather than replacing, the previous module:

The philosopher David Hume famously said that reason is the "slave of the passions". Given what we now know about modularity, I would modify that slightly. We have not just one central reasoner inside our heads but several. Which details we notice and remember and which ones we distort depends on what is the most functionally relevant to the subself currently in control. Although we have only one motivational subself in the cockpit of consciousness at any moment, the others have their radar systems running in the background.

I won't belabor this, but there are clear similarities between Kenrick's seven subself modules and attendant human drives and the seven emotional command system circuits put forth by Panksepp and presented in archetypal form by psychologist John Gottman (Gottman's work has been discussed in a previous post here, and clearly integrates Panksepp's research on emotional circuits), although the correlation is only approximate in some cases. I would really enjoy seeing someone establish a synthesis of the Panksepp work on emotional command systems and Kenrick's models for fundamental motivations and subself modules. The two are already very close, but there is an opportunity for some very interesting work.

Another note is that we should distinguish Kenrick's model from Howard Gardner's well-known theory of multiple intelligences (interestingly, Gardner originally listed seven different intelligence types), although I suspect that there would be much common ground involved.

Preparing to Hunt: Sensorimotor Rhythm

The loaded, floating pause---a mix of psychological serenity, vigilance, and physical preparation---that is associated with the SMR spindle spooling up was perhaps most poetically captured by the Spanish writer and philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset in his Meditations on Hunting:

The hunter knows that he does not know what is going to happen...Thus he needs to prepare an attention of a different and superior style---an attention which does not consist in riveting itself on the presumed but consists precisely in not presuming anything and avoiding inattentiveness. It is a "universal" attention, which does not inscribe itself on any point and tries to be on all points. There is a magnificent term for this, one that still conserves all of its zest of vivacity and imminence: alertness. The hunter is the alert man.

(Tony Hiss)

Author Tony Hiss believes that the SMR has its origins in an optimal hunting capacity (and, I would add, in an innate emotional reward system for the development of successful hunting skills), but also believes that it has applications that go far beyond its original mandate. In this regard, Hiss leans towards the "positive" school of evolutionary psychology, which aims to maximize human happiness by finding activities that the brain in programmed to enjoy and then exploring ways to participate in them without hurting other people.


In any event, somewhere along the way the possibilities associated with the sensorimotor rhythm changed and grew. This is what sticks in my mind. At some point after the emergence of the SMR as a new hunting technique that added stillness to restlessness, it went through a kind of metamorphosis and emerged as a winged creature---becoming the larger awareness that's such a distinct and unusual feature of modern human minds.

Triggering SMR: Deep Travel

It seems clear to me that if the SMR represents a mental capacity---or tendency---that our ancestral predator mammals had mastered and that since that time has been handed down through tens of millions of years and is now lodged in both cats and people, it's a trait that humanity, or humanity's direct progenitors, somewhere along the way adapted so as to be able to extract a number of very different possibilities from some so far "incomplete" situations. For cats, the SMR is a pause in the middle of pursuit, a kind of delayed gratification that makes their hunting more efficient---so its presence both reinforces the "first point" of their trips (such as pouncing on a bird) and increases their chances of attaining that goal. Whereas people, as we've seen, can, on occasion, use this same pause---or fermata or expanded moment---to achieve such a wide range of understandings.

-Tony Hiss

(a legendary expedition motorcycle, the Rokon Trailbreaker has been used for adventure trips all over the world, including a crossing of the extremely arduous Darien Gap)

The ability to strongly influence, if not control, the flow of one's thoughts and moods is a central tenet in many disciplines concerned with the art of living well. In light of the work of people like Panksepp, we should probably amend our investigations in this subject in consideration of a more precise goal, the creation of lifeways that achieve optimal settings for our own emotional command systems, while also helping those around us to reach the same place.

In fact, the practical philosophies---Zen,Greco-Roman Stoicism, Epicurean hedonism---all seem to recognize that time spent on regrets, fatalism, and anxiety about future events can ultimately result in the individual experiencing a poor quality of life.

The Zen solution is to accept that all worldly desire will ultimately end with suffering being experienced, and to therefore pursue the elimination of desire through a backdoor: disciplines of so-called "mindfulness" gradually re-orient the psyche towards experience of the world in the eternal present, and then, gradually, both rumination regarding past events and concern about the future can be brought under control.

Stoics, on the other hand, usually seek to divide activities into those that are (1) consequential and those that are trivial; and (2) into those activities that have at least semi-controllable outcomes and those that do not. The result at first pass is a 2x2 matrix with boxes for events that are:

1) Consequential/Controllable
2) Consequential/Uncontrollable
3) Trivial/Controllable
4) Trivial/Uncontrollable

Straightforward logic would have us then concentrate our efforts on those activities that are relatively high in both importance and responsiveness to our efforts (Box 1), and try to forget about the rest. We would possess what psychologists call an "internal locus of control".

If faced with a complex situation that combined features from all four boxes, a Stoic would become process-oriented (since outcomes were not within his locus of control) and tease out the aspects of the environment that did fit within the first box (note that this is not incompatible with Zen mindfulness practices, as a Stoic filter could be used to pre-identify the Box 1 elements and then pass them on to the Zen technique arsenal for concentrated work. An integrated Zen Stoicism might turn out to be one of the more effective approaches in the "art of living well").

The Epicurean position is, of course, that we should seek to maximize pleasure because ultimately existence is devoid of any real, lasting meaning. The straw man version of the philosophy portrays the quintessential Epicurean as a drug-abusing, hypersexual slacker, but in truth the thrust of the approach is to avoid situations that create pain, and a dangerous lifestyle could certainly create pain in the longer term.

Epicurean philosophy was frequently attacked because it counseled students against superstitious beliefs and involvement in political processes in favor of a life that was based on simple and readily accessible pleasures. The irony here is that the sustained enjoyment of simple pleasures actually takes quite a lot of work, and the pursuit of fun can become as much of a challenge as the problems posed by the Zen and Stoic approaches: happiness appears to be mean-reverting (the problem of the so-called "hedonic treadmill") and any new pleasure-generating activity will lose its effectiveness over time. Furthermore, even hardcore Stoics like Marcus Aurelius---apparently an opium addict---often do prefer to engage in pleasurable activities if they are available, subject to the constraints of the situation.

Tony Hiss respects the ancient techniques for achieving a higher consciousness, but he appears to be concerned with an additional, less codified tool for developing it. His cultivation of a particular state of transcendent "wide-angle awareness" could be viewed as a process of turbocharging the SEEKING system by constantly submitting oneself to environments that stimulate---or even overstimulate---the circuit, although Hiss himself does not discuss Panksepp's emotional command systems in his work.

In contrast to the philosophical approaches, which are largely concerned with one's inner psychological landscape and the reduction of distracting mental chatter, Hiss prefers to look outward and to select environments and activities that generate the euphoria and insights of a fully activated SEEKING system. Travel is a key tool in the triggering of the desired mind state,and Deep Travel is essentially a state in which the SMR spindle has spooled up.

In this regard, Deep Travel makes use of the Jukebox metaphor for the mind, a concept that the evolutionary psychologists John Tooby and Leda Cosmides concocted in order to help put a stake through the heart of the Blank Slate model that still finds disciples in sociology. Tooby and Cosmides argue that the interaction between evolutionary drives and the environment is much like the interaction between a customer and a jukebox. The environment pushes the B6 button and a preprogrammed "song" is loaded; a button with no corresponding music selection will fail to trigger a response.

In essence, a Deep Travel lifestyle would attempt to 1) know the available song list (fundamental drives); 2) know the corresponding menu buttons that deploy these songs (emotional command system); and 3)identify environments that successfully hit the right menu buttons and consciously seek them out.

As Far as the SEEKING System and SMR are Concerned, is the Journey More Important than the Destination?

Hiss, realizing that his mission may be too vague for some readers, looks to explain how Deep Travel experiences come about:

Having since that day examined many such "changeover" trips, my own and those of both renowned and of anonymous travelers, taking a look at big trips and little ones, at journeys to nearby places and to faraway, exotic destinations, I've come to understand that the only difference between such greatly rewarding trips and the more conventional ones that get you there and bring you back and nothing much more is that, during the memorable trips, people somewhere along the way enter a different part of their own minds, and begin to make use of an awareness that has its own range of interests and concerns and methods. And when the mind is in motion in this way, the experience of travel changes.

Empiricists would tend to find that passage quite frustrating, as it does not lend itself to quantification or testing. Fortunately, Hiss does suggest some explanations that are based in active research. Although he generally limits his scientific explorations to the sensorimotor rhythm and broad ideas from evolutionary psychology, I believe that someone who wanted to investigate this subject more deeply would benefit from looking at Panksepp's SEEKING system and the Polyvagal Theory of Porges (if SMR involves a reaction "beyond fight and flight" in order to absorb more information, than it should be accompanied by that high NA vagal tone that Borges has discovered).

As before, the Zen/Stoic philosophical paths and Deep Travel are perfectly compatible with one another and could well reap synergistic benefits if pursued simultaneously.

Hiss began his study after considering his own travel experiences and noting a kind of floating, somewhat detached state of both calm and excitement that he often enters when leaving the known and familiar and entering a new, exotic environment. Placed in foreign circumstances and wishing to rapidly differentiate between "safe and "unsafe" aspects of the new place, the mind's pattern-recognition apparatus goes into high gear. Hiss notes that, under these conditions, his brain seems to be operating with a focus on the present---a Zen "mindfulness" effect---and to busy itself with making sense of the new location and identifying those patterns or symbols that would make his life easier. He describes the change in his perspective that comes at the boundary of the familiar/heavily automated and the unknown/novel environments:

Segueing or slipping into Deep Travel can initially seem disconcerting to some people because, although it is a kind of simple internal lane changing or focus readjustment, like shifting your gaze from your laptop to the view out the window, it has an all-at-once impact more like that of an abrupt border crossing---something with the suddenness of the transition line that extends across the center of Korea, where only a razor-wire-topped fence separates urban sprawl and rapid industrialization from deeply forested wilderness with mountains where Amur leopards, Asiatic black bears, and probably tigers, as well, prowl beneath spreading Mongolian oaks.

...there may be times when Deep Travel may be mandatory, a kind of automatic safety feature or emergency override whose function is to offer us a third option between fight and flight, a chance to sit tight for the time being. Which helps us, before we take any action, to gather our wits, sort things out, find out what we can, reassess, and reevaluate our choices. Deep Travel's automatic intervention in such situations is another suggestion that it may be a constantly active state of mind, at least on a standby basis, even when we're not in motion.

In a foreign city, where perhaps little could be taken for granted, new landmarks to use as navigation aids, words for "bathroom" and "coffee", social cues, and so on would all be rapidly assessed (Hiss and others have noted that this effect seems to last for the first 48- to 72-hours of a trip; after that, it begins to wear off as the brain has mastered the basics of the new environment and starts to succeed in creating a sense of familiarity. If the goal is to begin to "look and move like a native", then this familiarity would be beneficial; if the goal is to maintain the buzz of the Deep Travel experience, then the familiarity would be less welcome because it would allow the brain to return to its energy-conserving default state. More on this in a future post).

Where Hiss departs from many travel writers is in his appreciation for the movement aspects of the journey. He finds that long train and bus rides, airport terminals, and jet-lagged hotel room experiences are among the most fruitful of all, as they represent the impact zone where the familiar and unfamiliar sensory stimuli cross. He considers the experience of movement to a destination to be at least as important as the reaching of the destination itself.

Hiss evokes the Anglo-Afghan writer Tahir Shah, who has written several books chronicling his various adventures in South America and the Middle East. Responding to questions about a higher consciousness experienced while traveling, Shah writes that:

For me, the travel is the reason. Yes, I set myself towering goals---to find Solomon's gold mines, a lost city, or the Birdmen of Peru---but these are just catalysts: ways to spark a major journey. There is often little meaning in what one finds, but it is the journey itself that gives meaning to the experience...

Travel is about ripping yourself away from your usual habits and habitat, wiping your mental canvas clean, and in that state absorbing everything that hits it... During a journey one is bombarded with experiences...

(professional explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes began his adventure career when he was sent down from the elite Special Air Service Regiment for attempting to use military explosives to destroy an aesthetically unappealing dam that had been built to support a movie production in scenic Wiltshire. His exploits have since become legend: crossing Antarctica unaided, reaching the summit of Everest at age 65, finding the lost city of Ubar, and many others. In recent times, Fiennes has taken to running mountain marathons and becoming involved in libertarian politics)

Is There an "SMR Lifestyle"?

When it comes to positive psychology, Helen Fisher would probably caution us to avoid making overly broad prescriptive statements. Her own research conclusions strongly suggest that some individuals have more profound novelty/dopamine needs (so-called "Explorer" personality types), and these individuals will also have psychological requirements biased towards seeing the world as an enriched playground. They would be the prime candidates for a Deep Travel-friendly lifestyle (indeed, such a lifestyle might keep them away from harmful addictive behaviors).

One potential lesson we could glean from the work of Tony Hiss is that the transportation component of the adventure travel plan may be at least as important as the destination itself; trains in particular seem to lend themselves to this kind of experience.

I've been attempting to form a sort of informal Deep Travel checklist that would combine the research findings and state them in terms of practical, trip-planning terms. The task is made difficult by the fact that the authors and researchers are coming at this subject indirectly and from many different directions, but I will post any tentative results for reader comment and critique as soon as I have a coherent list.

Coming Next: Possible Battlefield Implications of SMR and Emotional Command Systems


  1. I've been waiting for this continuation of the previous post, since this stuff has been on my mind a lot lately. I've been kind of irritated with what I'd call the "Travel Porn Guide to Peak Experiences" mentality, which is perpetuated by magazines like Outside, Men's Journal, and many others. It implies (generally without stating it explicitly, of course) that you have to spend a lot of money and go someplace exotic and distant in order to legitimate your travel experience. I've been trying to think of ways of work against this idea, which to me is just crazy.

    I haven't read Hiss's book, but I'm glad to know that he doesn't fall into this trap. I think it's really worth the effort to figure out how to adventure at least somewhat locally, if not in one's own backyard.

    By the way, you need one of these:


    It would go nicely with that Rokon.

  2. That bike looks like a monster! What is it?

    Re: travel marketing brochures, etc. Hiss has an interesting piece about how one of his most enjoyable flashes of "Deep Travel" came about when he was just strolling in his native NYC and saw a peregrine falcon take out a pigeon. His sense of time and place went through some kind of Gestalt switch and he had sudden access to deeper insights about his own neighborhood. Hiss now religiously carries a notebook so that he can try to jot this stuff down before it disappears (I suspect many of us can relate to that habit).

  3. The bike is a custom titanium Fatback from http://fatbackbikes.com. I imagine the one in the photo probably costs not much less than a basic Rokon. I have a much less expensive aluminum version from Salsa, shown here on some local travel last winter:


    Re Hiss and the falcon--that reminds me of Hopkins' poem:

    I CAUGHT this morning morning’s minion, king-
    dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
    Of the rolling level underneath him steady air,