03 December 2009

Curiosity Is a Matter of Life and Death

Curious minds are alive, constantly probing and questioning. We see curiosity most often in the young -- and in the genius. The absence of curiosity implies a dead mind, a zombie mind. We see this in dementia, depression, and in totalitarian environments -- where being too curious can get you killed, fired, or denied opportunity.
But why is curiosity so important? Here are four reasons:

It makes your mind active instead of passive
Curious people always ask questions and search for answers in their minds. Their minds are always active. Since the mind is like a muscle which becomes stronger through continual exercise, the mental exercise caused by curiosity makes your mind stronger and stronger.
It makes your mind observant of new ideas
When you are curious about something, your mind expects and anticipates new ideas related to it. When the ideas come they will soon be recognized. Without curiosity, the ideas may pass right in front of you and yet you miss them because your mind is not prepared to recognize them. Just think, how many great ideas may have lost due to lack of curiosity?
It opens up new worlds and possibilities
By being curious you will be able to see new worlds and possibilities which are normally not visible. They are hidden behind the surface of normal life, and it takes a curious mind to look beneath the surface and discover these new worlds and possibilities.
It brings excitement into your life
The life of curious people is far from boring. It’s neither dull nor routine. There are always new things that attract their attention, there are always new ‘toys’ to play with. Instead of being bored, curious people have an adventurous life. _Lifehack
Do you think you are living in a culture that encourages curiosity? I am not talking about frivolous curiosity aimed at celebrities such as Tiger Woods. Does your society encourage a deep probing curiosity aimed at all aspects of life -- particularly those that are most profoundly relevant to a quality existence?

Take the "cause of the century" climate change. The news and science media is always full of catastrophic predictions concerning melting icecaps, rising sea levels, unprecedented storms and droughts. But where are the probing, questioning news stories that look behind the carbon hysteria to try to find the rational truth? Why are the news and science media virtually silent on such profoundly important questions?

Curiosity. How does one come by it?
1. Keep an open mind

This is essential if you are to have a curious mind. Be open to learn, unlearn, and relearn. Some things you know and believe might be wrong, and you should be prepared to accept this possibility and change your mind.

2. Don’t take things as granted

If you just accept the world as it is without trying to dig deeper, you will certainly lose the ‘holy curiosity’. Never take things as granted. Try to dig deeper beneath the surface of what is around you.

3. Ask questions relentlessly

A sure way to dig deeper beneath the surface is asking questions: What is that? Why is it made that way? When was it made? Who invented it? Where does it come from? How does it work? What, why, when, who, where, and how are the best friends of curious people.

4. Don’t label something as boring

Whenever you label something as boring, you close one more door of possibilities. Curious people are unlikely to call something as boring. Instead, they always see it as a door to an exciting new world. Even if they don’t yet have time to explore it, they will leave the door open to be visited another time.

5. See learning as something fun

If you see learning as a burden, there’s no way you will want to dig deeper into anything. That will just make the burden heavier. But if you think of learning as something fun, you will naturally want to dig deeper. So look at life through the glasses of fun and excitement and enjoy the learning process..

6. Read diverse kinds of reading

Don’t spend too much time on just one world; take a look at another worlds. It will introduce you to the possibilities and excitement of the other worlds which may spark your interest to explore them further. One easy way to do this is through reading diverse kinds of reading. Try to pick a book or magazine on a new subject and let it feed your mind with the excitement of a new world. _Lifehack
Children are naturally curious, but too often something happens to change this.
For too many children, curiosity fades. Curiosity dimmed is a future denied. Our potential — emotional, social, and cognitive — is expressed through the quantity and quality of our experiences. And the less-curious child will make fewer new friends, join fewer social groups, read fewer books, and take fewer hikes. The less-curious child is harder to teach because he is harder to inspire, enthuse, and motivate.

There are three common ways adults constrain or even crush the enthusiastic exploration of the curious child: 1) fear, 2) disapproval and 3) absence.

Fear: Fear kills curiosity. When the child's world is chaotic or when he is afraid, he will not like novelty. He will seek the familiar, staying in his comfort zone, unwilling to leave and explore new things. Children impacted by war, natural disasters, family distress, or violence all have their curiosity crushed.

Disapproval: "Don’t touch. Don’t climb. Don’t yell. Don’t take that apart. Don’t get dirty. Don’t. Don’t. Don’t." Children sense and respond to our fears, biases, and attitudes. If we convey a sense of disgust at the mud on their shoes and the slime on their hands, their discovery of tadpoles will be diminished.

Absence: The presence of a caring, invested adult provides two things essential for optimal exploration: 1) a sense of safety from which to set out to discover new things and 2) the capacity to share the discovery and, thereby, get the pleasure and reinforcement from that discovery. _teacher.scholastic
The crushing of curiosity occurs fairly early and easily for most children. Some children seem to survive a mountain of discouragements and keep their curiosity. But those are exceptions.

We need more curious young, middle-aged, and old people. We need people unafraid to question authority, to laugh at pompous overreach of authority.

Without that element, a society sinks into authoritarianism, like North Korea or Cuba. Those two countries used the "cult of personality" to destroy curiosity, and purge the curious from their numbers. It could happen to you.


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Blogger kurt9 said...

Another great posting! This is the reason why I continue to read this blog on a regular basis. I think of all of the technology and political blogs I read, this one can best be described as being "heinleinesque conservative".

Friday, 04 December, 2009  
Blogger Dennis Mangan said...

Since curiosity (openness to experience) is correlated with intelligence (IQ), unfortunately telling someone to be more curious is like telling them to be more intelligent. Curiosity is, I would bet, mostly inherited.

Friday, 04 December, 2009  
Blogger Sojka's Call said...

Good post and I am interested in Dennis's question and how strong is the correlation between intelligence and curiosity. There are published conclusions both supporting and denying the correlation and I don't know if there is a preponderance of evidence one way or the other. It seems adaptability would also be a factor in predicting intelligence.

Friday, 04 December, 2009  
Blogger al fin said...

Thanks for the comments.

Dennis! Great to see you back. Remember: the best revenge is blogging well.

Friday, 04 December, 2009  
Blogger al fin said...

Concerning IQ and curiosity, no doubt there is a correlation -- but I'm not sure how strong it is, independent of positive feedback and positive expectations of the people surrounding the child.

If a child's early explorations are fruitful -- and not swatted down reflexively -- curiosity should be reinforced. Can constructive curiosity be taught or maintained in a person with an IQ under 90 past puberty? Who knows?

Let's be honest: no one really knows what a person with an IQ of 90 or 100 is capable of if given an optimal "education." I don't mean an institutional education. I mean a personalised education based upon individual strengths and advanced learning technologies.

Character, grit, executive function, and personality can go a very long way toward achieving a successful and satisfying life -- with only a mediocre IQ.

Yes, all of those things are at least partially heritable, but like IQ they are also partially influenced by "environment."

IQ is 70% heritable, plus or minus. It is relatively stable over a person's lifetime. It is a good predictor of scholastic achievement in a rigorous educational program. But it isn't everything.

If you want to make the most of every person's potential, you will want to find ways to develop curiosity, grit, executive function, character, positive personality traits, etc. to the extent possible -- regardless of IQ.

Friday, 04 December, 2009  
Blogger SwampWoman said...

I teach a lil' Down syndrome boy, curious as all get out. His IQ is supposedly around 30. He likes to take things apart and put them back together in various combinations.

Saturday, 05 December, 2009  
Blogger Sachin Shanbhag said...

i know anecdote is not data, but wasn't feynman's IQ something like 120-130. but the man was intensely curious.

Saturday, 05 December, 2009  
Blogger kaTTed said...

Curiosity is truly the life or death of us!

Monday, 03 January, 2011  

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“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act” _George Orwell

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