“Curiouser and Curiouser!”

AliceCharles Lutwidge Dodson, a gifted mathematician and lecturer in Mathematics at Oxford University is best known for the creative novels and poems he wrote, using his pen-name, Lewis Carroll. A curious polymath, he was renowned as a writer, mathematician, logician, clergyman and photographer. His best-known literary creation, Alice in Wonderland, reflected the author’s intense curiosity when he created for her the expression: “Curiouser and curiouser!”

Albert-Einstein jpgAlbert Einstein, brilliant theoretical physicist, lecturer, innovator, author, musician and political activist, famously claimed, “I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.” These and other creative innovators in many fields are well-known for their heightened curiosity.

Ian Leslie, comedian, advertising consultant and author of “Curious: The desire to know and why your future depends upon it”, warns of the emergence of a ‘creativity divide’, separating true curiosity, which he describes as “the sustained quest for understanding that begets insight and innovation” from those who seek information to answer specific questions, exacerbated by the use of the internet. He describes curiosity as “a mental muscle that atrophies without regular exercise” and advocates for parents, schools and workplaces to nurture the habit of curiosity.

epistemic curiousityAstrophysicist and author, Mario Livio, also investigates curiosity, exploring the concept, role and impact of curiosity in creativity, innovation and science. In Livio’s book, “Why? What makes us curious?”, he outlines four types of curiosity, initially proposed by Daniel Berlyne, a philosopher and experimental psychologist. Perceptual curiosity is related to the surprise and puzzlement experienced when individuals are exposed to novelty and ambiguity. Epistemic curiosity is the need to explore, to find out – what Thomas Hobbes described as a “lust of the mind” and is sometimes described as the gifted student’s “rage to learn”. Specific curiosity occurs when a certain piece of information is missing. Leslie sees use of the internet to locate specific information as reducing true curiosity; however Berlyne includes specific curiosity as one of the types of curiosity. Diversive curiosity is used to ward off boredom – another way in which a range of technology might be used.

Magnifying glassIan Leslie appears to regard epistemic curiosity as the only true form of curiosity; a pleasant experience that prompts further exploration. According to Daniel Berlyne’s research, it appears that each form of curiosity has a specific role in stimulating cognitive processing, intellectual engagement, creativity, innovation and even, according to Livio, evolution, as curious individuals identify new methods, develop innovations and progress society. “The truly curious will be increasingly in demand” in the workplace, maintains Leslie, as he encourages us all to nurture curiosity.

© Michele Juratowitch