Curious About Curiosity

After reading The Polymath by Waqas Ahmed, I emailed a “curiosity professor” at a prestigious American university to ask him about his take on the loss of curiosity in adulthood. He response got me curious about why I thought that other people were less curious than me, so I set out to discover if I was right or wrong.

I surveyed all the people around me and in my small local community. For the most part people weren’t curious (as I suspected) and if they were, had never attempted to satisfy their curiosity. One man took the exercise as an opportunity to whinge about politicians. I tried to reframe it in terms of curiosity:

Me: So, would it be fair to say that you’re curious about how they came to hold their position?

Him: No, they’re just all bastards.

Me: Ok, so, do you mean you wonder how such bad people got to be in charge of things?

Him: No, nothing like that, they’re just all liars. Crooks, the lot of them.

Me: Ok.(said while looking at the pile of newspapers in front of him. If they made him so angry, why did he keep reading about them? Doesn’t make much sense if you ask me! It did seem like a lot of wasted energy and I wanted to ask him about it, but I recognised that it probably wouldn’t have been a good idea).

Most people I asked said they weren’t curious about anything, but I wondered if they were just saying that so they didn’t need to think about the answer. Surely, surely, everyone is curious about something? Although it was suggested in The Polymath: “Adults think that they know what they need to know, and as such become increasingly close minded.” How sorry I felt for others when I read this; a prison for their minds, but one, according to the same book, that brings cognitive closure, allowing the brain to shut down the investigative process to get rid of the feeling of ambiguity (not knowing the answer to something).

Stephen Wolfram was quoted in The Polymath: “Complacency and ignorance reduce our quality of life.” I’d certainly agree with that as far as curiosity goes because there’s so much more to know that what any of us already know. If we open our minds and keep them open we can be host to all kinds of new and elastic ideas about things we’d once believed were concrete.

These are things that I thought were concrete, but no longer do:

  • I’m nonathletic and I definitely will never be able to run (In 2019 I ran more than 180km)
  • All men are bastards and I never want to get married (I have an awesome husband and we’ve been together for 17 years)
  • Drinking alcohol is essential to a good night out (I gave up drinking 10 years ago and since then enjoy myself more being sober than i did when I was drinking)
  • I’m afraid of heights (in 2019 I climbed a mountain on my own)
  • Friendships are meant to last forever (I stopped speaking to my “best friend” in 2007)
  • I’ll never get a degree (I graduated in 2012)
  • If you dream it, you can do it (what a load of smack! Just not realistic at all)
  • It’s easier for others than it is for me (not true and what difference does it make anyway)

And on and on and on and on… (to the tune of Eat Sleep Rave Repeat by Fat Boy Slim)

What are you curious about?