Curious (Review)

Mom sometimes complained that I asked too many questions. She often quoted the famous saying, “Curiosity killed the cat.”  One of my aunts told me that I was born under the astrological sign Leo, so I was a big cat and had better not be too curious.

Curious-02None of their warnings held my curiosity at bay for very long.  In fact, I went to the public library to find out about the infamous phrase.  I soon memorized the perfect rejoinder, “Satisfaction brought it back.”

Sadly, people embued with curiosity, have long been suppressed throughout history.  Curious people are the ones who seem the most threatening and subversive to established authority.  Curious people are the people who question not only authority, but why institutions and people in power should enjoy such power.

The Christian commentator, Saint Augustine hopped onto the anti-curiousity bandwagon in the year 397. He proclaimed that in the aeons before creation, God “fashioned Hell for the inquisitive”. Much later, Lord Byron dubbed curiosity “that low vice”.

Perhaps there is something to the warnings about curiosity. My inborn curiosity eventually seeded some much necessary skepticism.  It also led to my long term interest in journalism.  My need to satisfy who, what, where, when, why, and how has often fueled trips to the public library. These simple questions have driven my life.

It was at the Norfolk Public Library that I discovered Ian Leslie’s latest book Curious–The Desire to Know and Why Your Future Depends on it. I instantly thought, “What could be better than this?” My next thought was that I’d stumbled across some more validation for my curious nature.  Here, at last, is friendly writing to fortify me in the face of today’s popular incurious culture.

Leslie writes, “Knowledge makes you smarter.”  The statement seems like a no-brainer, but the curious person immediately wants to know why this is so.  One reason is that the more a person knows about a particular subject, the easier it is to solve problems that involve that subject.  He validates the idea that to learn about something, in depth, will bring about a more satisfying, solid understanding about a subject.Curious-01

One major question I’ve had regarding the increasing dominance of the Internet is that people risk becoming saturated with information, thus killing in-depth investigation by the seeker.  We can quickly satisfy superficial curiosity, then move on to the next novel item, on and on until we experience information overload. Leslie addressed this concern in his book.  He wrote, “Digital technologies are severing the link between effort and mental exploration…By making it easier for us to find answers, the Web threatens habits of deeper inquiry.”

Because sources like Google are developing tools to bring us answers at an ever faster speed, we become lazy and more easily satisfied.  The instant feeling of satisfaction doesn’t spur us on to learn more about a topic.  The quick and easy way of search and find out, soon kills off curiosity and its resulting progress and innovation. The Web encourages instant gratification.

Ian Leslie offers some further insight and solutions about this problem of mental instant gratification. He presents stories and sources to illustrate his thinking. I especially enjoyed the detail of Galileo distracted by a recently lit lamp in a cathedral. The swinging of the fixture was both a distraction and an inspiration for further inquiry.

Leslie claims that curiosity is not a quality that lasts a lifetime. Instead, it is a “mental muscle” that can go slack without regular exercise.  Curiosity is more than just a gift. It is a positive habit that needs nurturing by people in schools, parents, businesses, and ourselves if we wish to benefit from it.

The book enabled me to see how the curious people have more than a leg up on the incurious majority in our society. I feel motivated to continue the good habit of curiosity.

{ Curious–The Desire to Know and Why Your Future Depends on it by Ian Leslie; 240 pages; published August 2014 by Basic Books; ISBN: 978-0-465-07996-4 }

mini-meThe Blue Jay of Happiness quotes Albert Einstein. “I have no special talents, I am only passionately curious.”

About swabby429

An eclectic guy who likes to observe the world around him and comment about those observations.
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