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Travels With My Plant : TRAVELS by Michael Crichton (Knopf: $17.95; 376 pp.)

April 24, 1988|Alex Raksin

"Travels" opens with stories of Michael Crichton's clinical rotations as a medical student, told with a spirit reminiscent of Richard Feynman--curious, sensible and irreverent. The tales are as funny as they are disturbing: a healthy patient convinced that he is dying of "aerial nodes," a neurology resident who, "in a kind of insane pretense," sticks pins in incurable patients "to check their reflexes." Unifying these stories is Crichton's conviction that feelings can have as much of an effect on the body as physiology; at one point he asks patients: "Why did you have a heart attack?"

After Crichton leaves medicine (while he faults the profession, one suspects his departure was also motivated by hefty royalties from his best-selling thriller, "The Andromeda Strain"), he spends some time seeking out adventures in exotic locals such as Bangkok and Pahang. Soon, though, his geographic peregrinations become incidental; the real travels are in his mind, as he moves from being a rational, linear thinker, concerned with "making things happen," to more of an open-minded mystic, captivated by psychics, auras and channeling.

One suspects that Crichton has been traveling too long when, after 10 years away from the structured world of medicine, he begins earnestly talking with a cactus at a "personal growth" conference in the Lucerne Valley desert. "Boy, I thought, now I've blown it. After days and days of waiting, the cactus finally speaks and I immediately attack it because I feel defensive. Will you forgive me? No answer. Hardball from the cactus."

Crichton's change turns out not to be as dramatic as it first seems, though, for he never suggests that cognizant cactuses or supernatural beings actually exist. While he doesn't dismiss psychic phenomenon ("Consciousness has legitimate dimensions not yet guessed at"), his conversations with cactuses and other "entities" are, in a way, methods of meditation. Like Jung, who studied astrology as a psychological projection rather than a physical reality, Crichton comes to see his travels--both in mind and through country--as ways of getting in better in touch with himself.

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