BEYOND Comfort: The Joy of Exploring Unchartered Territory

Emerson, a 19th-century American intellectual, once said, “The mind, once stretched by a new idea, never returns to its original dimensions.” Italian luminaries like da Vinci and Galileo embody this sentiment, inspiring a rich tradition of innovation and creativity that continues to influence scientists and artists in Italy.
February, 2024

Emerson, a multipotentialite essayist, lecturer, poet, abolitionist, and the leader of the American intellectual movement in the 1800s, once said “The mind, once stretched by a new idea, never returns to its original dimensions.” Italian scientists and artists have long embodied the spirit of exploration and inquiry, echoing Emerson’s sentiment. From Leonardo da Vinci’s insatiable curiosity that drove his groundbreaking anatomical studies and visionary inventions to the pioneering work of Galileo Galilei in astronomy and physics, Italian luminaries have exemplified the profound impact of unyielding curiosity. This enduring legacy of intellectual curiosity continues to inspire scientists and artists alike, underscoring the timeless relevance of Emerson’s words in Italy’s rich tradition of innovation and creativity.

Anyone who has left home created a path of their own or expanded their comfort zone to the point that the idea of “comfort” no longer existing would likely share similar thoughts to Emerson. It’s challenging to find one’s footing in a place that feels so foreign, where the terrain feels rocky and unsettled. And while adjusting to new environments has its difficulties, the thought of returning is more daunting than staying. When it comes to assimilating, adapting, and evolving in new cultures, breaking borders, and learning languages, like most things, Italians do it best.

Currently, more than five million Italians live abroad, and more than 80 million people worldwide claim either full or partial Italian ancestry. This likely means that the Italians of today, like their ancestors before them, are the original explorers, inventors, and assimilators – the brave new world leaders. Mainstream media including movies, music, luxury cars, motorcycles, speedboats and yachts, handbags, fashion, and (my favorite export) food, wine, and desserts, can be seen, read, worn, and enjoyed worldwide. In addition, many inventions, such as the typewriter, batteries, glasses, crossword puzzles, radio, newspapers, piano, espresso machine, Moka pot, and so much more, have come to us straight from Italy. Additionally, many political, social, mathematical, scientific, physics, and engineering pursuits such as firefighters, civil law, numbers 1-10, the Holocene calendar, jacuzzi, microscope, telescope, calculator, parachute, school, stock exchange, television, opera, theater… have all come to us from Italy. The above list can summarize it that without Italians assimilating, the world quite literally would not be what it is today. Italian artists, astronauts, and scientists continue to make their mark on history and sparking the drive to innovate, just like the legends who have come before them.

Rules are simply obstacles to be jumped, like in a horse race: higher and higher every time.

Fabiola Gianotti is an Italian particle physicist known for her exceptional leadership at CERN, where she became the first woman to serve as Director-General. Gianotti’s remarkable contributions to the field of particle physics have garnered global recognition, and her leadership has been pivotal in advancing our understanding of the fundamental building blocks of the universe. Her dedication to scientific discovery and commitment to fostering international collaboration have solidified her reputation as a trailblazer in the world of physics. As Gianotti herself once said, “There is nothing more exciting than having a life devoted to fundamental knowledge and to contributing to advance the borders of knowledge.” Her words reflect her passion for making science accessible and her unwavering dedication to the pursuit of knowledge.

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Italian Astronaut and aviator Samanta Cristoforetti is the first European woman commander of the International Space Station and the first Italian astronaut to make a space flight. Cristoforetti finds joy in life’s challenges.

“Many times, an obstacle is just a message that life gives you,” she says. “You have to find another way, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get to your destination.” This spirit is representative of the nerve it takes to break boundaries, for it is there in the difficult times that one can find the inspiration to either give up or give it everything one has left. Innovators can attest that there will be, and there have been many moments where the rubber meets the road, when one must decide if this one is the right path. Many times, the only way to truly find that out is to keep going, despite all obstacles. As stated by Cristoforetti, many times, these obstacles aren’t obstacles at all but rather life’s cheeky way of pointing us in the right direction. As astronauts, dreamers, and explorers alike would agree, in these trying times, the only way to go is up – to infinity and beyond.

Maurizio Cattelan, born in 1960 in Padua, Italy, now lives and works in New York, New York, USA. Cattelan is said to be one of the most influential and controversial artists of his time, using materials in challenging contexts to evoke commentary and engagement.“Rules are simply obstacles to be jumped, like in a horse race: higher and higher every time,” says Cattelan. Deep and true freedom is achieved by continuing to create one’s own path and continually breaking one’s own rules or preconceived notions of how life is “supposed to be.” Cattelan has the idea that to keep moving forward and climbing to the top, one must continue to push the needle. “Rules are simply obstacles to be jumped, like in a horse race: higher and higher every time.” The beauty of breaking the rules is that they can be rewritten to suit any desire, and that is where real progress, self-improvement, and self-discovery are made.

For some, for the curious, the courageous, the brave, the insatiable – this joy – this wanting to discover more, once planted, will only grow. It is true that throughout history, the most successful people also understood this fact – that to grow, we must replant ourselves and reinvent ourselves in another place. But, one fact will always remain true – for those born in Italy, have lived or studied here – anywhere they will try to go, once they have lived in Italy, Italy will always live in them.