Explorer Mikael Strandberg

Opinion; Internal Exploration

I often get the question, why do you call yourself an explorer, not an adventurer? My answer is that I see an adventurer as somebody doing sporting challenges as a priority, e.g skiing to the Poles, climbing Everest, basically involving oneself in a personal challenge, most of the time for example excluding other cultures as a main priority. Which is what I think exploration is for me, putting oneself as a second or third, and something more important first. Than again, I have no other name collectively for what I am doing. Though I am getting more fed up by the day with the use of the word explorer and what it stands for. In many countries, for example in the so called developing world, it is a negative word. It stinks of colonialism. In our part of the world, there´s many who call themselves explorers, but who I consider nothing else but cocktail explorers, people who have money and want to rub shoulders with what I would call real explorers. The one´s who got dirt under their fingernails. And what else is there really to explore out there? Lot´s I think if you take the position of Dr Alicia Colson, who rightly according to me, thinks there´s lots to explore internally. What is exploration always generates a heated debate!

Internal Exploration


Alicia Colson


Of late I have been pondering the nature of ‘internal exploration’.  I will bounce off comments made by Michael Robinson and David Renwick Grant, who in turn commented on Mikael’s post “Am I a fake and a cheat?”  I thought Mikael’s and David’s comments were interesting, especially when it came to the question of such exploration and just what it might entail.  Surely it is about who we are, and what we can achieve within the resources that are offered by our minds.

Exploration of the world around us is fascinating, but it is very important to acknowledge that perhaps precious little of the planet remains ‘undiscovered’.  The world has largely been mapped in many different ways, on paper, on film and on digital formats.  The planet has been explored by foot, land, boat, plane and satellite, with the pointed exceptions of ‘deep sea’ or perhaps “outer space”.  How many of us will be involved in pioneering expeditions there, given the prohibitive costs of each of those.

Conversely, the unique challenges and adventures of personal or internal exploration are available to all, regardless of our personal resources.  Internal exploration is something that we all do at some point in our lives since whether consciously or not, we all ‘do’ internal exploration.  Such exploration occurs whenever we seek to achieve specific goals, no different perhaps from those who wish to make their names in the world of conventional exploration.  Many explorers have spoken of how much more they learned about themselves, and have realized that they could push their personal physical limits to unanticipated heights.  This is the internal exploration I am talking about.


We all have our own past and L.P. Hartley reminds us that, “the past is a foreign country, they do things differently there”, I would argue the self is that foreign country, and what better project is there in the darkness of those long winter nights than to explore it.  If exploration was solely about discovering unknown continents or lost tribes then explorers would be on the brink of extinction.  Which begs the question why do we still continue to explore this world even with the beguiling assistance of our maps, satellite phones and GPS devices?  Perhaps exploration is really that re-discovery of the self which occurs again and again throughout our lives as we face personal challenges and adventures.

We challenge ourselves to see if we can climb the highest mountain or canoe from the source of a river to the sea?  What fires that drive?  What drives us to walk away from daily life?  Is it to understand others, or to gain better knowledge of ourselves?  Perhaps we undertake these challenges for charity or to escape from daily life, to challenge ourselves in such a way that what we experience and see might be life-changing.  Certainly not as a sort of ‘competitive sport’ for this seems arid since the ‘loser’ is surely ourselves?

In these terms, we have opportunities to explore the world around us on a daily basis.  Life’s challenges oblige us to pursue our personal limits and boundaries.  Just as an explorer might seek ways to navigate a complex network of rapids in order to get to the sea, so we can navigate the barriers and challenges to our personal progress.  Whether crossing rapids, giving a speech for the first time, learning the script of a play or starting university, the most important aspect of these is that what happens involves the internal character of the explorer.  This process invariably becomes both richer and more complex.  Explorers of all kinds must overcome self-doubt in order to achieve their goals and this involves each in plumbing the very depths of their being.


So, there are many senses in which an expedition of the physical world is also an exploration of our very souls, our very sense of being.  We learn about the place that we explore but also about ourselves as we undergo, willingly or not, our contingent internal explorations.  Internal exploration provides us with a deeper understanding of our sense of self, and our limitations.  It provides a way in which we can achieve a better understanding of our relationship to the world in which we live.  Since we are unique and content frequently changes such exploration will always be contingent on the circumstances in which we find ourselves.  These can be as ever changing as the English weather.

Dr. Alicia Colson (McGill) has been an archaeologist since 1990 and has undertaken archaeological fieldwork in Canada, the UK, the US and most recently Antigua. She is currently involved in the creation of a consortium drawn from the world of New Media and Academe to establish a new digital academic publishing company, working from a ‘think tank’ located in a purpose-built research park in NW Ontario. She has recently become an International Fellow of the Canadian Branch of the Explorers Club.

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  1. An interesting perspective, however, I think that Internal Exploration is the one component that ties Adventure and Exploration together, the personal challenge of discovering our external surroundings. I differentiate between Adventure and Explorations. The adventure is a search and discovery of our surroundings seen from a personal view, and without a specific focus and goal, it a all round perception which takes all experiences, nature, people, culture, architecture, insects, mammals, rocks, political situations etc into account, often leading to an output which has more character of what you might expect a literary author to put out, such as we find by Wilburn Smith or Karen Blixen, where the personal experience is at the heart of the story. And Exploration is often paid by a research institution or similar, leading to specific findings which can be written into a scientific paper. I have a hard time accepting a thrill seeking event, like climbing MrEverest as being part any of the categories, no doubt its a fantastic achievement, written into personal accounts a thousand times, but has no or little scientific value. The same can be said about extreme races, where there is no interaction with anything but the challenge itself. And then again, if you are participating in a Exploration, you might still be labeled as an Adventurer, if you are able to deviate from the main objective of the expedition and seek information in other not related areas, and use your philosophical mind to express you inner thoughts to the rest of the World afterwards.

  2. David, thank you for your thoughtful long comment. I can understand why you’ve split Exploration from Adventure but I’d have to agree to disagree with you. I think that it is possible to have adventures while doing an expedition. I think that your split is false. It also presumes that one is dry and boring (because it is paid for by one or more research institution and to be written up in a research paper) while the other is thrilling and full of adrenalin and has been paid for from non-research source. It appears to me that your division is based on four issues: the source of the money, the goal of the trip, the wants and desires of the participants and the intended outcome.

    I think that by putting research oriented studies/expeditions into the category of exploration but not adventure you have presumed that those undertaking these expeditions cannot experience one or more adventures. …but I wonder whether you mean that the possibility to have one or adrenalin rushes while doing something that’s research orientated. Your division sets up the idea that all research/scientifically orientated expeditions are boring and dull to everyone else and only interesting those people undergoing such expeditions and that no possibility of any adrenalin rushes of any sort which is ridiculous since a discovery of something new whilst conducting research in the field is incredible. It might be possible that you as a researcher discover something that proves your point as to why a paradigm shift did or did not occur. It is possible that you as a researcher goes into the field, on an expedition, to ostensibly examine one thing but has an epiphany about something else which makes you realise that something else is more important. Epiphanies occur in many places.

    I think that classifying research trips as not involving adrenalin rushes is false since you’ve immediately based the value of that trip to its participants based on how the trip was paid for based on the sources of this money. Research is for full of adrenalin rushes, epiphanies about ideas can be gained anywhere and research institutions are increasingly being funded from various sources and often people who research find the monies from a variety of sources. Academics who find money for expeditions have to be very entrepreneurial and indeed conduct “expeditions/adventures” to get the money together to fund the research. How they get the money to fund a research trip is probably a thrilling expedition itself.

    The fact remains that expeditions which have scientific goals and are funded by research entities are physically thrilling, adventurous as well and intellectually stimulating to those involved. The people involved invariably experience both internal and external exploration. If one follows the view that adventures are only thrill seeking then one is forced to presume then expeditions lack thrills. I think that thrills (adrenalin rushes) can be experienced in both an adventure and an expedition and that this split is false. But I also think that people are different and what might be an adventure or an expedition for one person could be meaningless for someone else. We all have different frames of reference, fears, weaknesses, strengths, levels of self-knowledge, and different ideas of what constitutes an expedition and an adventure. But everyone experiences internal exploration. It is also important to appreciate the value of all of these adventures/expeditions since what might be called a walk in a park for one person could be called an adventure for someone else. Someone else who’s an agoraphobic might call the idea of sitting on a chair at the end of their garden an adventure. It would be for them, a thrill…and perhaps they would have a rush of adrenalin. They would also experience internal exploration.

  3. Dear Alicia, this is a very interesting and important conversations. What is the nature of the Explorer and the Adventurer? What are the differences? and when are you what? Lets investigate! I have a hard time seeing where we disagree, but will write a longer explanation during the weekend. Please visit us at Facebook THE ADVENTURERS SOCIETY. You are most welcome to join us, be it as a explorer or an adventurer.

  4. Its great to have this discussion and I hope that more people will chip in.

    To my opinion words like Exploration, Expedition, Adventure and the words Explorer and Adventurers are used randomly and often wrongly. It would be nice to clarify exactly what this words entails.
    From Wikipedia
    An adventure is an exciting or unusual experience; it may also be a bold, usually risky undertaking, with an uncertain outcome Adventures may be activities with some potential for physical danger, such as skydiving, mountain climbing and/or participating in extreme sports. The term also broadly refers to any enterprise that is potentially fraught with physical, financial or psychological risk, such as a business venture, a love affair, or other major life undertakings.
    An expedition typically refers to a long journey or voyage undertaken for a specific purpose, often exploratory, scientific, geographic, military or political in nature.
    Exploration is the act of searching or traveling around a terrain for the purpose of discovery of resources or information.
    From the above there are clear differences between what an Adventure is and what an Expedition or Exploration is.
    • An Adventure is as stated “an exciting or unusual experience” where and
    • Expedition is a long journey with a specific purpose
    • Exploration is the searching/travelling for the purpose of discovery of resources or information.
    An adventure doesn’t need a purpose whereas both Expedition and Exploration needs a specific purpose. Hence an adventure can not be labeled as neither being an Expedition or Exploration, where as both Expedition and Explorations can also be labeled as being an adventure.

    Exiting or unusual experiences in comparison to what?
    I suggest 3 levels of adventure experiences
    1. Experiences in comparison with the other personal experiences
    Every person on earth had experienced an adventure on a personal level, meaning that the adventure is related to what the person has experienced before.
    2. Experiences in comparison to experiences in the general public.
    This level of adventure is an experience which stands out as unusual in relation to what the general public will have as adventurous experiences. But at the same time is an experience which is share by many in a global context.
    3. Experiences in comparison with recognized Adventurers.
    This level of experience is of a nature where only a few persons have a similar experience.

    What is an Adventurer?
    From http://www.thefreedictionary.com/adventurer
    1. One that seeks adventure.
    2. A soldier of fortune.
    3. A heavy speculator in stocks, business, or trade.
    4. One that attempts to gain wealth and social position by unscrupulous means.

    Ok! No.1 will do!

    This said, if have a few thought which is deviating slightly from the above interpretations. For instance, In general, where you have an input there should also be an evaluation and an output. I think the kind of evaluations and output differs for the Adventure and the Exploration, and can be helping to characterize the two different experiences.
    My thoughts are circulating around how “The Adventurers Society” might be able to differentiate between the two.

    D wrote: And then again, if you are participating in an Exploration, you might still be labeled as an Adventurer, if you are able to deviate from the main objective of the expedition and seek information in other not related areas, and use your philosophical mind to express you inner thoughts to the rest of the World afterwards.
    A wrote: David, thank you for your thoughtful long comment. I can understand why you’ve split Exploration from Adventure but I’d have to agree to disagree with you. I think that it is possible to have adventures while doing an expedition.
    D answer: I can’t see that we have any disagreement.
    Anyone is an adventurer in his own right!
    An Adventure can be identified as being an extraordinary experience. But even though a person perceives this experience as being extraordinary or adventurous it might not be so in the eyes of others. In other words an adventure can be judged as being extraordinary on the individual level, or it can be judged as being an adventurous or extraordinary experience on a public level. And as stated, the product of an adventure (if any) is entirely different from the product of an exploration which will always have an output in the end.
    I have friends, who go to Greece or Spain every year, it is not exploration, but in their World it is adventure, for me, as a recognized Adventurer, it is not perceived as being anything extraordinary and hence not adventurous.
    Sometimes you meet people who have lived in the same town all their life; they have not even been to the next city. For this person to take the bus to the next town will be an Adventure on a personal level, but not in the eyes of the public. Even though, everyone will recognize it as being a personal adventure.
    An Adventurous mind will often be seeking a certain job or create a project (Exploration), which enables this person to go to extraordinary places and live for months on end. But it could also just be something which goes with the profession, and hence, what could be adventurous might now be strictly a matter of finding the facts demanded by the project and seen from a professional perspective. In this case it’s just an assignment, which happens to take place in a specific location, where the data can be found, and even though the place might be exiting and be an adventure on a personal level it doesn’t make that person adventurous on a public level. He just did what he was supposed to do! He is an Explorer, and an Explorer is not an adventurer by default.
    On the other hand, there will also be Explorer who are vividly interested in everything around them, be it of scientific value or anything else, it is indeed the adventurous soul, which is the driving force under these circumstances. The personal experiences, which include the feelings, the philosophical thoughts not related directly to the assignment, will most lightly not be written into the report, but might very well be written or expressed somewhere else on a personal note. The explorer has a huge potential for also being an adventurer, but Explorers doesn’t go on adventure missions, but on expeditions/ explorations.
    Even though some of the travels I make could as well be an exploration, I’m definitely not an Explorer. I just don’t want to be scientific about my findings, but rather display them in a more philosophical, holistic way, and in some cases inspire to exploration.
    Many Adventurers are longing for recognition of their adventures as being explorations, but to my opinion they should instead be faithful to the idea of Adventure, and not try to blur the two concepts. Both the word. We need to formulate a profile for what it is to be an Adventurer which is just as precise as it is for Explorers. To say that an Adventurer is someone who seeks adventure is a bit vague, and the other interpretations of the word are not flattering in any way.

    In September this year, I went into the heart of the Indonesian Island of Sulawesi, to learn about their funeral rituals. Earlier I visited Sumba, another Island in Indonesia, to investigate their funeral rituals, and I have participated in other funerals around the World. At one time, I was actually living in a Funeral home in US. It’s not death, that has my interest, but the way people are coping with death. Even though I have a mission, the results will never reach a scientific paper, they will stay as part of my life experience and hopefully some day they will be part of a book, a fiction, a fairy-tale, which entails my extraordinary experiences, my dreamworld and my thoughts from a long life. In Danish, the word Adventure (Eventyr) actually means fairy-tale!

    Adventures can lead to Explorations.
    At one time, my traveling partner and I stumbled on the most amazing cave, hidden away on a hillside. Our local guide had played in the cave as a kid, and told us that very few people had knowledge about this particular cave. It was a burial site, with 2-300 year old coffins, with the most amazing woodcarvings, they were broken and scattered all over the place, as if an earthquake at one time had shaken the whole place and caused the scaffolding where the coffins originally were placed, to crumble, or maybe the scaffolding just couldn’t cope with time. Anyway, the place was littered with hundreds of bones and sculls, quite macabre but also fascinating. I knew, we have stumbled on something very unique, and my first thought was to tell someone professional about the cave and hopefully initiate an exploration of the cave. It has never been explored and might actually have more secrets, such as remains from Homo Floresiensis. My adventure might lead to something unique and tie the link between adventure and exploration.
    I’m an architect of profession, and hence architecture is often in my viewfinder. On Sulawesi, they have some very unique houses, which the roof extending 4-5 meters over the gables and upward. Why? I discovered that the roof and the whole construction was a natural air conditioning system. No one, has ever written about this! Again, a link between being an adventurer and the possibility of exploration. I could do it myself, but I have way too much fun, just being adventurous and keep stumbling on unusual things which others can be inspired from and possibly explore.
    What I’m saying is that, even though an adventurer has the personal satisfaction of having the thrill, of being in unique situations, the adventure might lead to something more substantial, and I think that a true adventurer will always be scavenging the surroundings for this kind of possibilities.

    There is a difference between being an Adventurer or an Explorer. I guess it’s easier for an Explorer to become a member of an Adventurers Club, than it is for an Adventurer to become a member of an Explorers club, for the same reasons. But both have value, not only for the individual who are having the adventure or participate in an exploration but for the public as well, but in two entirely different ways.
    As the President of The Adventurers Society, I accept that anyone can be an adventurer, but they have to be so, by a self driven and continuous effort, and it must be explained in what way, the extraordinary experiences are adventurous, not in relation to the person but in relation to other adventurers.
    I’m not in favor of accepting, one time explorers, or other professionals, who has been dictated to go on a fact finding mission, because of their particular skills.But if the same person are able to tell a truly amazing personal account of the experiences and reveal a way of thinking on subjects which is not related to the actual exploratory topic, and the stories, at the same time, are deriving from a self driven effort I will recognize this person as being an Explorer as well as an Adventurer.

  5. From The Adventurers Society FB site:

    We have a fierce discussion on Mikaels website about what it is to be an adventurer and what it is to be an explorer. My point is that it is easy to define what it is to be an Explorer, but it seems that no one has taken the time to identify exactly what kind of qualities it takes to be an Adventurer and in what way an Adventurer might contribute to the World. If you look the word Adventurer up in a dictionary it’s a person going on Adventures, a person who take risky chances and other unflattering things.

    It got me thinking. First of all,there is a difference in the purpose of the mission which an Adventurers and an Explorer attends, where the one is strictly for an investigative purpose and the other is of a more random nature or focusing on something, which has no or little interest to anyone else but for those who are participating. On a second note, many Adventurers are writing some fantastic creative stories based on their experiences, making videos, and taking photographs, but often not focused on a specific topic in a scientific way. The goal is based on “Fuzzy logic” where you take and lives with what comes. Of course, today we also include extreme races, Adventure tourism, climbing mountains etc. as being Adventurers and its not this kind of thrill seeking adventures I want to discuss, but rater to find out if the actions of what we call Adventurers can make an impact in our understanding for the World in a more constructive way.

    I think we as Adventurers, scavenging around the World, getting all kind of unusual and exotic experiences from life has an obligation to keep our eyes and minds very open toward anything we might meet on our way. And to express our findings at the end of our travels, be it in a book or some kind of other media, but in a way which expresses the essence of our findings. This would, most obviously, not be in a scientific paper, but more in a philosophical way.

    Sometimes I meet weird things, combinations of knowledge, derived from my many travels, which I know, that no scientist will never be able to stumble upon, and I see it as my obligation as an Adventurer to bring this to the attention of someone, who can make a more serious study of my findings, I, as an Adventurer can point the finger in the right direction, ask the questions, but I will not undertake the needed exploration.

    Not to long ago I started to learn the Zulu language, and I discovered that the word Ighelo in Zulu means home. And that the home is a structure made out of weed, and has the shape of, guess what! , an Iglo, which you find in Greenland made of snow. and both have a very small rounded shaped entrance.. How on earth can this happen, that the same word is covering the same physical form? Did the Vikings in fact go the the Eastern coast of Africa after they had been to Greenland?

    Once I attended a funeral in Barisal in Bangladesh, a Hindu funeral. I was told that from the person died until it was released to the heavens, 40 days must pass and ceremonies must be held. A few years later I visited a burial on the Indonesian Island of Sumba, and after the person was placed in a coffin of stone, the family had to bring presents to the grave in 40 days and after this 40 days an if the spirit was content, it would move to the family home and protect them. And Jesus lived in the dessert for 40 days… Someone, tell me what it is with this 40 days, why not 30 days?

    What I say is that we, as Adventurers, has an unique opportunity to give our missions credibility beyond our obvious personal interests and we should investigate how to get this thoughts into the agenda when talking about Adventurers contra Explorers.

    I think we need each other, but of course the hit rate for finding something of interest is fare less, when you are a scavenger and not a predator!

  6. Oh Dear !

    Another debate about who fits into which tidy niche?

    Where shall I place myself in this round of Exploration or Adventure Musical Chairs?

    Bit like the ancient riddle of how many angels can balance on the head of a pin, if you ask me.

    Without relying upon my dictionary for linguistic guidance, allow me to say that I believe Professor Colson has expressed an urgent point.

    Humanity is in danger of losing its panache.

    She raised the example of my friend, the world’s greatest living wagon traveller, David Grant. He set off with his three children to travel around the planet with a horse and wagon. His was an astonishing example of including exploration into his children’s lives.

    Yet Grant’s decision is increasingly a thing of the past.

    A report published recently by the UK’s National Trust states that since the 1970s the area in which children may roam without supervision has decreased by almost 90%.

    In one generation the proportion of children regularly playing in wild places in the UK has fallen from over half to fewer than one in ten.

    In the US, in just six years (1997-2003) children with particular outdoor hobbies fell by half.

    Eleven to 15 year-olds in Britain now spend, on average, half their waking day in front of a screen.

    Meanwhile, as our access to calories has increased, we’ve decreased the amount of physical activity in our lives.

    In 1970, about 40 percent of all children in the U.S. walked to school; now fewer than 12 percent do.

    Our grandparents, without exercising, burned up about five times as many calories a day in physical activity as we do.

    Thus, regardless of what word you use, the result is the same.

    Because of the spread of a culture of timidity, the adaptation of a safety-first attitude is draining the world of any hint of risk, leaving a flat sameness.

    Peering at a photo of Kafiristan on Google Earth is not the same as riding there on horseback, which is how I reached the place.

    Professor Colson is correct when she states that we should be encouraging each other to take risks, challenge our safety zone and actually interact with the word instead of relying on viewing it second-hand from a distance.

    Whether that be on short excursions with our children into the woods, or venturing alone to the other side of the planet, is not the point.

    What’s needed is adventurous action and examples of exploratory leadership.

    Leave the semantics to the pedestrians who stay at home.

  7. Firstly David I must apologise for not having replied to your comments beforehand but I haven’t had access to the ‘net since my laptop hasn’t functioned properly. Thank you for your kind invitation to join the Adventurers Society on FB. I think that I agree with CuChullaine O’Reilly’s comment about semantics over the issue of an explorer or an adventurer since it is an endless discussion akin to the one about how many angels could dance on the head of a pin. My point is that humanity is in danger of losing its panache, we need to each other to take risks, go beyond our personal safety zone and be prepared to learn for ourselves what an incredible world we live in. CuChullaine O’Reilly’s examples are good ones. This prevailing culture of timidity is dangerous since it is clear from surveys conducted in several countries that many people are becoming, through perhaps no fault of their own, risk-adverse and less likely to push themselves, their communities and their society beyond their perceived acceptable limits. Who sets these limits I’m not so sure since it appears to me that it is always ‘they’ or ‘them’ who sets them but this entity remains unknown but it is clear it defines/judges what ought to be done, who decides what convention is, or should be undertaken. The problem is that people by being risk-adverse are wrapping themselves in cotton wool in fear of themselves, the unknown, the unstated and the ‘bad thing outside the front door’. This attitude is not only unhealthy but it can be even dangerous since in the long term it could lead to a situation where dictatorships develop. It is crucial for humanity that adventurous action and examples of exploratory leadership must occur in every aspect of life.

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