London, Ontario We joke all the time about the collective life force that propels us to “fight boredom” and the importance of being “lifetime learners.” Ok, maybe “we” is wrong, but I certainly joke about that as a way to explain to colleagues my reading, my work, travel, and more. It keeps the mind growing or at least it slows the shrinking, the heart beating, and the feet taking one step after another. My curiosity keeps me open to new things and experiences and forces me to adapt to change. It’s a good thing, even though it is one of those fires that can never really be put out either.
All of which made me receptive to the over-the-transom pitch to visit on Wade’s World with two academics, who also happened to be identical twins, Perry Zurn and Dani Bassett, who had melded their fields of study to write a book about curiosity, called Curious Minds: The Power of Connection. With one in philosophy and the other in bioengineering, it’s fair to say that they take curiosity very, very seriously. I also learned, particularly from Zurn, the philosopher, that curiosity has been a serious subject of inquiry for several millennia. Asking Bassett about what they were really up to in bioengineering, was it hardware or what, it turned out that their specialty is the brain and how it works. All of which brought them together to a conclusion that what our curiosity is really about is making connections. Essentially, using our curiosity to connect ideas together, people together, and fabricate an understanding of world. Now, that’s interesting.
They argue that there are three main forms in which curiosity manifests in people: the butterfly, the hunter, and the dancer. These metaphors are helpful, but don’t panic, most of us are all of these things combined both separately and integrated together. The butterfly curiosity flits from topic to topic. The hunter’s curiosity goes deep until satisfied. The dancer’s curiosity takes imaginative jumps to combine different networks of information.
Zurn and Bassett are clear that their argument may not be popular, especially in the academy where specialists and, let us say, hunters, are more appreciated and rewarded. On the other hand, their key defense lies in how are we going to make new connections, new breakthroughs, without nurturing more curiosity coupled with specialization.
For the rest of us, the best application of their arguments is in education for our children and in the workplace for ourselves. In education, they make the case for exploration, not “teaching to the test.” Presenting diversity, exploring the edges and boundaries, and asking the hard questions. In short, they want curiosity to be encouraged, not forced out of the classroom and into the internet. For, workers they argue against the rote practice of toil, as many before them have done and allowing space to allow crafts and professions to also explore so that it creates network connections that can lead to innovations.
I think they’ve got something there. Might be worth all of us thinking about some more, if this has made you curious.