There is an ecstasy that marks the summit of life, and beyond which life cannot rise. And such is the paradox of living, this ecstasy comes when one is most alive, and it comes as a complete forgetfulness that one is alive.
-Jack London (Call of the Wild)
Despite the dangers, death tolls, and costs, humans have always strived to reach the edge and see what lies beyond. We will always hike Everest, send men into space, and explore the oceans because they are there. Humans can never stay away from the unknown, even with the fear of death.
Jack London wrote a guidepost for humanity in Call of the Wild. Humanity can do nothing but rise. It is all we know how to do. We are competitive, proud, and unapologetic in our pursuits of the future. What lies beyond is the looming question at the back of everyone’s mind, “What’s out there?” and we are constantly pushing against boundaries to break through to the summit.
In Defense of Everest. Everest is the ultimate manifestation of human will. It is the biggest, highest, most beckoning point on Earth and it is in human nature to wonder what is at the top or to question those who went there. Some may argue that a place like Everest is “sold out.” It has become a playground for those people with the money to hike it, and in some aspects this is true. Everest is also arguably a foolish and overly dangerous endeavor, especially in light of a particularly dangerous year. But, a reading of Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer puts a good perspective on what hiking Everest means in this day and age.
In short, Everest is a physical representation of the ecstasy that lies at the summit. It is dangerous, it is crowded, it is becoming cluttered with trash; but it is there and it is the biggest, and it is human nature to wonder what it is like on the top.
People hike Everest because it is not always enough to just see other people do it. Hiking Everest is no different from wanting fame or to break records or conquer any other goal. We pursue them because they are there for us to break, no other reason.
Danger and the threat of physical harm often comes second in the face of human will and the idea that a mere human can reach the absolute highest point on Earth. It might just be the conquistador inside of us, but there is a case to made of the need for human exploration.
For the Sake of Humanity, Listen to Neil DeGrasse Tyson. Human endeavor is also the spark that leads to innovation. In trying to reach the summit (in the Jack London sense), innovations in many other areas begin to develop. Neil Degrasse Tyson, the astrophysicist, has been recently calling young people to pursue the many summits we face in life. In particular, space. Space travel has always fascinated and called humans to reach further and further outward. Humans are called, much like in Star Trek, to boldly go where no man has gone before. It is an endless journey towards a peak we know we will never see, but it is a journey we are destined to make. Tyson argues that we are lacking a unifying pursuit.
Kennedy and the Moon. During the 1960s, Kennedy declared that we would put a man on the moon and our government made sure we did. In much the same way, to strive to put a man on Mars or to build a base on the moon is not all that crazy, it is simply a push against the boundaries of our human understanding. It is the natural desire to march towards the summit and achieve reach a new goal because it’s there. If you need any inspiration for a “quest for the moon-like” endeavor, just listen to Kennedy:
The Forgotten Frontier. And finally, let’s not forget the forgotten frontier; under the ocean. This year, James Cameron made a relatively under the radar case for privately funded expeditions when he made a solo descent to the bottom of the Mariana Trench (a depth not reached since 1960) in a submarine his team designed. The fact that this depth has not been scoured since 1960 shows that Tyson’s view on the state of human exploration is being severely stalled.
Reaching the deepest part of the ocean or going to the highest point on Earth or going as deep into space as humanly possible is the most important thing we can do. It expands our conventional knowledge of just who we are in the universe and here on Earth. In the process of reaching the summit, or summits, we create new technology to get the job done.
Let Human Nature Do the Work. This is the nature of who we are as humans. The idea of reaching the summit of Everest or going to Mars or scouring the bottom of the ocean is bigger than the act itself; it is the journey, the endeavor to succeed. In our efforts to discover, we will see problems on Earth diminish in the face of larger truths about the world and universe around us. Let human nature take the course that it will and natural boundary-pushing expeditions will follow. It is the most important thing we can do as humans.
I leave you with Neil DeGrasse Tyson: