It is hard for one to fully grasp the story telling capabilities and high level of intellect that the late Michael Crichton possessed.
Most well known for his best selling novels Jurassic Park, Rising Sun and The Andromeda Strain, Crichton was also a Harvard trained medical doctor and amateur anthropologist.
He brought all of these qualities together in one of his most spectactular but somewhat unknown works, “Travels.”
Travels takes the reader on Crichton’s journeys into various regions on the Earth and perhaps more interesting, journeys into himself.
Exploration for Crichton is not a way to escape but an avenue to learn more about himself and the world around him.
Travels begins at Harvard Medical School where Crichton was a young and aspiring physician. He details his experiences dissecting cadavers, various clinical rotations and dealing with dying and psychologically disturbed patients. A chapter recalling Crichton’s attempts to help a very attractive, seductive and psychologically disturbed college student, is while tragic, quite humorous as well. The chief resident at this hospital is profoundly frank in talking to Crichton about this patient and leaves him battling very awkward feelings and thoughts.
“Help her. Just don’t fuck her.” He tells a young but also married Crichton.
It is interesting to see Crichton through these early chapters transform from an aspiring doctor, to ultimately becoming disillusioned with practicing medicine. His interactions with extremely brilliant but also strangely, bone-headed fellow medical students and doctors, leaves him wondering the good that medicine can do for people. These super intelligent colleagues and residents that the author works with, seem to lack the emotional intelligence and a broader common sense that Crichton accurately sees to be essential in treating and helping patients.
For anyone who still thinks that physicians are angels of our society and motivated solely by the desire to help others, may be in for a rude awakening as Crichton recalls a sadist chief resident during his psychological and neurology rotation, who took pleasure in putting sharp pins in some of the near unresponsive and very brain damaged patients.
It is fascinating to see the young, future prolific writer, develop his own views on illness and disease, that seems to contradict the modern medical model that views the human body as a machine. That illness is a product of a machine going awry.
During residency, Crichton would ask patients interesting questions, such as, “Why did you have a heart attack?” And he was surprised at the answers he received but perhaps was more surprised about what these responses meant.
He listened to patients who, rather than be offended, respond with recounting struggles such as a spouse leaving them, a death of a love one, not getting a promotion or working at a job they despised. The author begins to realize that people’s mental and emotional state, without a doubt, influences their biology.
Crichton listened to a Jamaican women, during and after giving birth to a child, speak in anguish about how the West African father refused to acknowledge the baby and his role as the father. He told her that if she did not have an abortion, he would cast a voodoo spell on her and the baby.
The woman was convinced that she would now die as a result of this curse being cast.
Crichton tried to explain that the spell was nonsense, that she was perfectly healthy and safe. That she had nothing to fear. Nevertheless, the woman’s vitals took a turn for the worse. A few days after giving birth, the woman died.
Crichton was astonished and shocked by this event, and was further moved in curiosity by the role that consciousness and the mind plays in disease and health.
Whilst in school, Crichton begins writing novels, just for fun originally. But it soon becomes clear that he is quite good at writing stories. He publishes them and not only do they become popular, he wins literary awards. His friends at medical school are oblivious to their classmate’s new found fame and after graduation, Crichton decides to move to California and pursue his creative talent full time.
The book then proceeds to cover Michael’s physical and inner travels that range from the top of Mount Kilimanjaro to a California desert on a meditation retreat
What are perhaps the biggest revelations that the author discovers through these travels, is the discovery of authenticity in the area of psychic mediumship and spiritual practice. Crichton, a Harvard trained physician and a big believer in the scientific method, is completely blown away when he has psychics tell him things that should be impossible for them to know. Examples include the recent death of his father, an eery description of his work environment and experiences that happened to him when he was a young child that he had forgotten about. The author candidly and honestly, professes these experiences and the shock he felt in the face of their occurrence. He lists all physical and ordinary explanations that could be offered for these experiences and coherently deduces them away as inadequate explanations.
He sees auras, feels energy and has psychedelic experiences at a meditation retreat, without the use of drugs. He learns to channel and even bend spoons.
He explores the unknown and has so many unorthodox experiences, that towards the end he begins to think, “Michael you’ve been living in California to long.”
This is arguably the Gold, that is and makes reading Travels such a worthwhile experience. Fame aside, here is a successful, normal, Harvard medical school graduate, who explores topics that are taboo or considered off limits in science. And he holds nothing back on how he perceives these ‘travels,’ and his view on what they mean for science and reality.
His outer travels to Thailand, Malaysia, Africa, Pakistan, Jamaica and others, are equally entertaining and illuminating. Trekking into the mountains in Africa and visiting a Gorilla family, Crichton understands what his Dutch friend, who he initially thought just had poor English, meant when she remarked to him before he set off into the jungle, “They are like men.”
He further surmises in recounting the experience that ended with him nearly soiling himself, “See, I understood that a Gorilla charging you would be frightening. I’ve read about it previously, but I didn’t actually know it until it happened to me.”
To end, Travels, may be Crichton’s most overlooked pieces and offers an intimate glimpse into the life of one of the most prolific authors of the twentieth century.
The adventures and revelations that are in this work will surprise some, and inspire almost all.