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Is Curiosity Innate?
Too Many Questions
I ask too many questions. Too many.
Some seemingly trivial ones, others apparently non-trivial “intellectual” ones.
What did you eat for breakfast? Why do our cells behave this way? Which country has the most immigrants? What is the criteria for good art? Why are so many people the world over choosing to not have kids? Why is health insurance so expensive in America? Why is she starting her business? How did he figure out manufacturing? Why did you decide to live in this city? What is the median body fat % by country? How much of body fat is influenced by genetics? How does modern day noise impact our neocortex? How did people spend their time in the 1800s, 1900s to now? Does the medium we use to organize our thoughts (paper notepad, phone app) influence thinking itself?
This curiosity doesn’t merely manifest in the questions I ask others and myself; it’s also displayed in the multitude of books I like to read. At times, I just stand in front of my bookshelf staring at my selection of books, unable to decide what I want to read, because I want to read it all, right now! And so it happens that I end up reading 20 books at the same time, and suffice it to say that it’s not just once when I’ve had to restart a book I was 35 pages into 4 weeks ago. This, by the way, is not something I’m proud and it’s not something I’m unhappy about either. For whatever reason, it just seems to be part of my nature.
In talking to people, I sometimes notice that they aren’t the same way. They don’t ask as many questions.
So, the other day, while I was pondering my strange propensity for asking a million questions, I asked myself yet another question: could curiosity be innate?
Are some people more curious than others? Is curiosity part of someone’s nature? Is it driven by the environment you grew up in? Is it connected to your relationship with learning and education? Could the boring education system drill curiosity out of people?
Are different people curious about different things? (I suspect yes). Could you be curious about certain things and completely disengaged on other topics or does your curiosity bleed into all aspects of your life? Are there varying degrees of curiosity? Can curiosity be nurtured? Is there a curse to being too curious?
Are some cultures more curious than others? For example, Charlie Munger discusses how the culture of Athens led it to develop much math and science out of pure curiosity, while the Romans made no contribution to math or science and were engaged in "practical" engineering1.
How then does one create cultures of curiosity like those that existed in Athens or Thomas Edison's labs or Bell Labs?
I don’t have any answers (yet).
Just questions. Too many questions.
“The curious are provided with much fun and wisdom long after formal education has ended.”
Posts on books, education, human nature, and any other words I bob my head to.
On the topic of culture and curiosity, Charlie Munger in his famous Psychology of Human Misjudgment talk has some words to share:
“..in advanced human civilization, culture greatly increases the effectiveness of curiosity in advancing knowledge. For instance, Athens (including its colony, Alexandria) developed much math and science out of pure curiosity while the Romans made almost no contribution to either math or science. They instead concentrated their attention on the “practical” engineering of mines, roads, aqueducts, etc.”