Three reasons that great thinkers loved traveling in armchairs
The coronavirus has triggered unimaginable travel restrictions across the globe. Philosophers and others have been arguing for centuries that the reality of travel is second to travel in the armchair. In your living room, you are able to travel to new places simply by reading about them snuggled under a blanket and sipping a cup of coffee. In these difficult times, let’s take an optimistic review of the three advantages of traveling without leaving the comfort of your home.
Map of the imaginary southern lands in ‘Mundus alter and Idem’ (1607) by Mercurius Britannicus. Wikimedia
In 1605, English theorist Joseph Hall published an in-depth attack on travel. The work Another World and Yet the Same was a parody of popular novels such as Mandeville’s Travels. It is about a man named Mercurius Britannicus who sails with the boat Fancie toward the South Pole. At the south pole, he finds a new continent called Terra Australis.
Mercurious explores for three decades the land. He finds findings that Gluttonia, Drinkallia, Viraginia, Moronia, and Lavernia are filled with drunkards, gluttonous women, morons, and criminals. In the end, he says that it is not a good idea to travel:
Have you thought about all the risks of such a company, including the cost and the difficulties? …
Heaven exists, you might think, But maybe you only glimpse it in the endless darkness.
There’s earth that isn’t one to walk on, possibly due to the numerous serpents and beasts.
Men exist; however, you’d rather not have their presence. What would happen if a Patagonian Polyphemus Cyclops decided to rip you apart and then eat the alive and throbbing pieces?
Hall believes that it is better to explore new worlds through reading, avoiding storms and sails or the “never-ending tossing of waves.” There aren’t any creatures like serpents and Patagonian Cyclops living in your house.
A lot of books are better than one trip.
Socrates was adamant not to step foot outside Athens. He argued that he could find out in the knowledge of his surroundings from studying: “you can lead me all over Attica or anywhere else you like simply waving in front of me the leaves of a book.” In the same way, a 1635 Mercator atlas stated that maps allowed users to look at the things that others have sought in journeys: “uncouth Continents… the Rocks, the Isles, the Rivers and their falls… God’s greatest Work”.
Similar to Socrates, the philosopher Immanuel Kant did not travel far from his hometown in Konigsberg (now Kaliningrad), Prussia. But he was fascinated by the world around him and was avidly reading books, travelogues, and even teaching geography. He admitted that he did not have the time to travel due to the desire to learn more about numerous countries.
The most effective travel writing was free of charge.
The best travel writing is fabricated. One of these stories is of English sailor David Ingram, who was involved in a sea battle in 1567 and was stranded off the shores of Mexico. Ingram said that he spent the following 11 months traveling across North America in a total of 3000 miles from Mexico to Nova Scotia.
The distance is stunning. In modern times, the author Richard Nathan re-traced the route in just nine months. The less plausible aspects are what Ingram encountered on the way, including red sheep, elephants, gigantic birds with peacock-like wings, inaccessible rivers, and cities that were laced with pearls, gold, and crystals.