Curiosity comes from the Latin word cūriōsus, which can be translated to ‘attention/diligence’. It’s a quality related to inquiry thinking such as exploration, investigation and learning. You have different forms of psychological curiosity; cognitive curiosity, intellectual curiosity, sensory curiosity, emotional and social curiosity. Generally, curiosity is heavily associated with all aspects of human development; where the process of learning starts – and the desire to acquire knowledge, skill and higher awareness.
Today we live in a world which has radically changed, on all fronts, from our natural human habitat. Luckily, we humans are one of the most resilient species (maybe the most), when it comes to changes in our environment. Not only are we very adaptable to new domains, we also have the cognitive capacity to develop skillsets and invent new tools and technology. This way we’ve been able to optimize, create and innovate the best environments for ourselves. The human evolution is pretty amazing in this way.
It seems to be wide agreement that this has a lot to do with human curiosity. Curiosity is a key principle for lifelong learning. It’s what make us explore and investigate. Curiosity is evolutionarily adaptive. It’s sparks the desire to acquire knowledge and skill – and with that, move forward. The spirit of science, art, literature – yes, indeed culture, is built on curiosity. It is one of the driving forces behind scientific discoveries and human development. In absence of it, we wouldn’t have any of the things we in modern societies take for granted. Probably safe to say that we humans, wouldn’t have been here today.
When I grew up in the early 90’s I had a curious approach to life. I’m lucky to have been born into a family who set the groundwork for that. Both my mom and dad have been engaged in my upbringing, and when I look back on my childhood, I perceive it as they both had their own unique way of taking part in my development. My mom was always attentive to my creative abilities and stimulated my love for drawing, as well as music and dance. My dad, on the other hand, stimulated my critical thinking from an early age. He thought me how to set high goals for myself, and prepared me for life with an entrepreneurial mindset.
This kind of childhood definitely laid the groundwork for curiosity and exploration. Also, my experience with school have been for the most part positive. This is largely due to the fact of a few amazing teachers who at the time stood out as good role models. Not because of authority, but wisdom. As a young adult I’ve explored many parts of the world, put myself in danger as a part of it, and have taken interest in so many obscure things on my trajectory through life. I strongly believe nature and nurture both play an important part of human evolution, but with regards to curiosity – I believe it to be mostly software. Meaning nurture play the presiding role.
Are we facing any novel hazards in modern societies, when it comes to curiosity? Just by looking around in our modern world, it’s easy to come away with the notion that curiosity is flourishing. Exponential technology creates novelty and innovations everywhere we look. Our news feeds are filled with signals and cues nudging us in this direction. And maybe that is a strong indication of a thriving curious populace. Or maybe it is just a tempting thought. Our perception of the obvious – in this case, exponential technology – is not always the reality. It is when you see past the obvious, that you will find the real. And my inclination is that curiosity is not on the rise for the average person in modern society.
It has never been easier to be more passive in your life – yet still be entertained, distracted and pleased 24/7. Instant gratification is the new approach to life. And when have true curiosity ever come from endless security and convenience? Never. I don’t talk about the safety you need as a small child growing up. Humans are vulnerable and we need security when we first start exploring the world. Nevertheless, this safety should, in line with the child’s development, start to change from an all-encompassing safe space to a relationship built on healthy trust and accountability.
Some of my most insightful experiences has neither been secure or convenient. They have been the complete opposite: uncomfortable and utterly painful. Like, when I learned to respect the ocean (read: surfing), build and maintain my own livelihood and the importance of vigilance (read: my snake encounter). These experiences have the same pattern in common: I’m driven to them by curiosity and the willingness to learn, and they all enforce me to get out of my comfort zone, face the danger and make room for serendipity.
Dr. Zachery Stein, among many other, points out that the lack of encouragement and stimulation of curiosity in childhood and school, are one of the main reasons children don’t find school particularly interesting or worthwhile. And that’s perfectly understandable. Adults who never got stimulated to ask question or be comfortable with uncertainty in their childhood – how can we expect them to become curious adults? Or put differently; seek experiences outside the secure, convenient framework of instant gratification?
“In most cultures around the world, so called “grown-ups” are usually immature relative to the full spectrum of human capacities and potentials… Many grown-ups are actually emotionally young, having been infantilized by consumer culture and traditional religion, or alienated from their own creative powers by dull and meaningless jobs. Most grown-ups actually have a lot more growing up to do which is part of the educational crisis characterizing our time.”
School is outsourced parenting. So, when school fails, it’s really everybody’s problem. Many parents will not manage to stimulate their children’s curiosity, just by the very fact that they never got stimulated in this way themselves. But, we can’t allow our schools to do the same. I believe the educational crisis is one of the main social ills of modern societies. We see this decay both psychological and cultural, with more social tension and inequality, poor mental health and no ability to make sense of the world. Just as a side note; I don’t mean that school should cater to the unique need of every child in any naive sense. We need educational systems that value competence and merit, and healthy judgement. The educational problem is profoundly complex, and requires an holistic, cognizant ability to understand the full body of problems. As well as the calamitous downstream effects of it.
So, what can we, as individuals, do? As one of the great modern thinkers, Daniel Schmachtenberger, puts it; “just by recognizing the hazard and giving it some careful thought, you are contributing in a positive way.” If more people start doing that, we can begin to get more aligned with each other, and start coming together for our mutual benefit.
During my adolescence I often felt embarrassed by my own curiosity. Much due to the very nature of group-thinking and social consensus. This made me withdraw from the spirit of inquiry and emergent intuitions in the moment. That is never a good idea. Then you make room for bitterness, and can end up somewhere you don’t want to be. I’m very grateful for the continuing encouragement and curiosity around me, by people I love and respect. This has everything to do with me dodging the road to hell, essentially. In due course, I have learn to appreciate more the people I meet that are super curious of life (even though it can sometimes be totally unknown and weird to me). As well as have more understanding and compassion for people who clearly lacks curiosity. The signs of a yearning curious spirit behind the veneer of public persona are actually pretty lucid, if you look for them.
I hope you have someone in your life that encourage you, or in some way inspires you to be curious. Nothing bad can come off it. Some people will tell you that many things are better to leave in the fog and not really think about, but I don’t think that is true. And it’s plenty of science and good faith thinking to back up that claim. Follow your heart, your spirit of inquiry and your exploratory mode. Try to be comfortable with uncertainty, and welcome serendipity. When you do that, you will eventually meet like-minded people who, with time, can become part of your curious companionship. If more people do that, we can actually start seeing each other for who we are.
Then, and only then, can we begin to fix the bigger problems we’ve created for ourselves.