For the execution of the voyage to the Indies, I did not make use of intelligence, mathematics or maps.

Christopher Columbus, The Book of Prophesies

 

Hic sunt dracones (“Here be dragons”)

Hunt-Lenox Globe

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CREATING A CULTURE OF EXPLORATION

"If a map is a record of what has been found it is also a depiction of the adventurous spirit. Each curve of the pen is a diary of courage."

The expression "Hic sunt dracones" has become justly famous because it is so powerful. “Here be dragons” is a warning that the traveler should beware, for in this place the intrepid explorer has stepped across the boundary of the known world.

 

Whatever resides beyond this point has not yet been discovered.

Hidden away in its Rare Book Division of the New York Public Library is a small copper globe measuring around 5 inches in diameter and created sometime around the year 1510. Since it was constructed in the same generation as the discovery of the New World, it is particularly interesting because it shows us a picture of the geographical knowledge of the time.

 

Engraved on the little copper globe are many details outlining familiar features of the Earth. Among them are the landmass encompassing Europe and Asia, a clearly marked “India”, the continents of Australia and Africa, and numerous Pacific Islands. One of its many fascinating revelations is that the globe has no depiction of North America, although South America is represented - as an island. It captures the sense of sea-going adventure with drawings of galleon ships with sails unfurled. In addition to the coastal shapes there are also drawings of various creatures of the oceans, and if you look closely off the southeast coast of Asia, you can find a Latin inscription, a phrase that translates “Here be dragons.”

 

Although “Here be dragons” is often quoted as being ubiquitous on old maps, it isn’t. Actually, this little globe is the only ancient object that uses these words. No other globe and no map of the period contain the phrase, Hic sunt dracones, but the expression has become justly famous because it is so powerful. “Here be dragons” is a warning that the traveler should beware, for in this place the intrepid explorer has stepped across the boundary of the known world. Whatever resides beyond this point has not yet been discovered.

It is no surprise that maps depict sea beasts and monsters at their edges. They are creatures of the imagination, they evoke curiosity and fear, and they represent the dangers that can be found at the edges of our life-experience.

To be a cartographer of new worlds is to observe and record the unknown in order to make it available to the next traveler. It is a dangerous kind of work. If a map is a record of what has been found it is also a depiction of the adventurous spirit. Each curve of the pen is a diary of courage. The known world is earned incrementally and has been purchased at the price of shipwrecks and stormy seas.  It is no surprise that maps depict sea beasts and monsters at their edges. They are creatures of the imagination, they evoke curiosity and fear, and they represent the dangers that can be found at the edges of our life-experience.

 

Today’s cartographers of the unknown may no longer be found on a ship at sea. Our journeys may be of a different sort, but the nature of exploration remains unchanged. It is to confront the inner dragon, perhaps not to know where we are going, or even where we are. It is to go beyond the ready-made answers and to trust the journey itself to teach us about the world and then how to find our way home.

Sometimes we confuse exploration with experimentation but they are not the same. Indeed the experimental model has a very different structure - from its beginning proposal, through its experiments and formal trials, to its final conclusions and closure. Even if the initial hypothesis is disproven we know where we are throughout the process.

 

Like the scientist, the explorer seeks out the unknown but doesn’t bring the same scientific method to this kind of adventure. We start with questions but they simply draw us toward the sea. Where is there something I see that baffles or excites me? That is the place I must go. Is there a place where, if I were to voyage there, I might change for the better? Trim the sails toward that region.

Sometimes the most dangerous journeys are within, and we may at first refuse the call. What might we find if we threw away the habitual map that defines our world? What new continents of possibility hide within us that we might never discover because we remain on familiar shores? To explore we must first confront our own dragons: our fears and possibilities of failure. Before we can explore outside we must change within ourselves. With that transformation we may find that we can no longer stay home. We must embark. We must take action.

 

How do we create a culture of exploration? The answer has always been to embrace those who sail in the direction of the dragon.

 

We actively create this culture by agreeing to protect and support exploration itself. We cannot remove the danger of the expedition, but we can protect explorers from those who would keep them safe at home.

 

A culture of exploration doesn’t minimize the courage it takes to embark on the journey, nor does it demand guarantees of success from its explorers. It accepts the potential of failure and protects the experience of misfortune from resulting in shame. It knows that if there are no more explorers we have entered a form of creative decline. When the map ceases to grow something essential in us begins to die.

How do we create a culture of exploration? The answer has always been to embrace those who sail in the direction of the dragon.

 

We actively create this culture by agreeing to protect and support exploration itself. We cannot remove the danger of the expedition, but we can protect explorers from those who would keep them safe at home.

A culture of exploration doesn’t measure success in the most obvious and immediate ways. It embraces the experience of risk as being something transformational. It takes responsibility for playing with the unknown, and it accepts that all outcomes of such play cannot be controlled. By its very nature the endeavor is unpredictable in process and result. It does not begin by counting the gold we might find. Instead, the riches gained from exploration are discovered alongside the expedition itself.

 

Those who form a culture of exploration expect us to share what we have discovered. As cartographers we are to pass on to everyone what has been found.

 

Perhaps we must decide to sail in a certain direction and wait to discover what crosses our path. We may not need “intelligence, mathematics and maps” to begin. Instead we must simply determine to go. After all, if we already know what awaits us below the horizon, we are not yet in a new world.

 

We must sail beyond what we know to find what is on the other side, be it a dragon or not.

©2020 John Thomas Dodson All Rights Reserved

No part pf this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the author.

℗ 2020 John Thomas Dodson All Rights Reserved 

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©2020 John Thomas Dodson All Rights Reserved

No part pf this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the author.