A colleague asked me to write something about curiosity and in so doing I wondered about what it is that makes us curious. When we see or hear something about which we want to know more, what is it that propels us to explore in more depth and detail toward a greater level of understanding? There are those who spend their entire lives researching one particular subject or topic, perhaps most frequently in the field of science, perhaps because science is a systematic way of knowing.
When one of my sons was very young he would spend hours watching ants outdoors, had the classic indoor ant farm, watched all kinds of insects and while he did not become an entomologist, he did major in biology and environmental science, became a teacher and one of his current avocations is collecting a particular species of moths. Why? What drove his curiosity all these years to want to know more, to explore and discover what it all means in the larger ecosystem? Perhaps it’s seeing the connections, how one thing is related to another and that to yet another and so on. And then one day, we realize that we are all species of life who are connected on this same fragile planet. And what are we to make of that? It’s a curious thing, this inter-connectedness.
Those who know me well, know that I watch the sun rise most mornings and while it sparks some curiosity about the solar system, and other galaxies, I usually just end up in a state of awesome appreciation for the creation of yet another day. I watch with fascination the sun’s apparent seasonal movement along the horizon from solstice to equinox and back again, as predictable and reliable as anything I know. It’s comforting and quieting to be able to participate in something so constant and feel like I am even a part of this most amazing creation. I am sufficiently curious to see how I can celebrate each season with joyful activities in order to absorb more of nature’s offerings.
I’ve always been curious about whether animals have thoughts and while I am convinced they do, I have not been sufficiently curious to explore the subject in depth. I just watch them expressing themselves in various ways and I am not sure about how really smart they are; however, it seems they can figure out a lot of things on their own without much or any human intervention. I am an inveterate watcher of both wild and domestic animals. So, I concluded they must go through some process of trial and error or sizing up a situation and figuring out how to overcome some obstacle if it’s in their way of getting what they want. Paul Corey wrote a book some years ago, still in print, called Do Cats Think? The book was mostly about the many cats he had and some of the stories are funny but if cats do think, then why not other animals too? My donkeys think mostly about eating it seems. And there are the behavior codes of survival passed from one generation to another in many species.
As for encouraging curiosity in children, it’s easy to put them in many different places and situations and give them numerous opportunities to explore the world around them whether in nature, through travel, in reading, and most of all, by asking them questions and encouraging them to ask questions of their own. Here are some examples of questions from children. Why is the sky blue? Why do people have to die? Where do they go when they die? Why are people mean? Why do parents have to get divorced? Who invented time and how do we know it’s right? Why do I have to go to school? Why is math boring? Why is ocean water salty? Why is water wet? Why is our flag red, white and blue? How does the moon follow us at night when we travel? Why are there dimples on a golf ball? What is a light year and how long is it? What is infinity? What is the smallest animal in the world? Where does blood come from? A parent or teacher can respond by saying let’s find out together and see what we can learn and thus the conversation begins. Explore and discover and encourage curiosity.
Have you ever been curious about human behavior and what motivates us? What are you curious about? What would you like to know more about, not only in terms of the human condition but in the world around you? Here’s an invitation. Write down six things that you are curious about, things that make you wonder why they are this way or that way. Then, take the top two or three and put them in a comment so others can see and share. I am curious as to what you might be curious about! Thanks!