Thursday, May 18, 2017
The New York Times reports
that King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands has the unusual hobby of co-piloting turbofan airliners for KLM a couple of times a
month. Here's why:
Willem-Alexander said the intense focus needed for piloting took his mind away from other concerns.The Dutch monarch's reasoning reminded me of novelist-philosopher Ayn Rand's essay about her hobby of stamp-collecting, and her similar motives for resuming that hobby after setting it aside for decades:
"For me the most important thing is that I have a hobby for which I need to concentrate completely. You have an airplane, passengers and a crew. You carry responsibility for that. You cannot take your problems from the ground with you in the sky. You can for a brief moment disconnect and concentrate on something else. That is the biggest relaxation of flying to me." [bold added]
I am often asked why people like stamp collecting. So widespread a hobby can obviously have many different motives. I can answer only in regard to my own motives, which I have observed also in some of the stamp collectors I have met.The story reminded also, by contrast, of Rand's open letter to Soviet chess master Boris Spassky, for whom Rand paradoxically identified chess as both an escape from an otherwise intolerable existence, and a trap for his otherwise powerful mind.
The pleasure lies in a certain special way of using one's mind. Stamp collecting is a hobby for busy, purposeful, ambitious people -- because, in patterns, it has the essential elements of a career, but transposed to a clearly delimited, intensely private world.
A career requires the ability to sustain a purpose over a long period of time, through many separate steps, choices, decisions, adding up to a steady progression to a goal. Purposeful people cannot rest by doing nothing; nor can they feel at home in the role of passive spectators. They seldom find pleasure in single occasions, such as a party or a show or even a vacation, a pleasure that ends right then and there, with no further consequences.
[A] short-range event or activity that leads nowhere is an unnatural strain on them, an irritating interruption or a source of painful boredom.
Yet they need relaxation and rest from their constant, single-tracked drive. What they need is another track, but for the same train -- that is, a change of subject, but using part of the same method of mental functioning.
Stamp collecting fulfills that need. [bold added] ("Why I Like Stamp Collecting," in The Ayn Rand Column, p. 125)
That said, let me highly recommend reading (or re-reading) that column on stamp collecting, if you have it. Rand plays the tour guide here, taking the reader to the oasis of "lighthearted benevolence" she would visit regularly during the later part of her career.
5-19-17: For those interested in reading Ayn Rand's article, I have added its title above, after the excerpt.