Admit it. In our instant gratification society, it’s very tempting to just Google the answer to a question rather than research it or let our curiosity grow.
So says British author Ian Leslie in his new book Curious: The Desire to Know And Why Your Future Depends On It. “Highly curious people are in greater demand than ever before in modern economies, and they’re pulling away from everyone else,” Leslie says.
At a recent lecture sponsored by the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce in London, Leslie discussed his book, as well as two types of curiosity: diversive and epistemic. Diversive curiosity is a hunger for new information, Leslie says. It’s impulsive– like scratching an itch–and takes you in new directions. The second type, epistemic curiosity, is a lifelong quest for knowledge, characterized by building one’s knowledge base and exploring questions.
Humans are born with an instinct to be curious, Leslie says. He cites a study that found children between the ages of three and five ask nearly 40,000 questions. Once children reach school age, their natural curiosity wanes, in part, he theorizes, because learning is hard work. Epistemic curiosity requires focus, persistence, and discipline, Leslie notes.
While the Internet and sites like Google have put information at our fingertips, it often makes us lazy, he says. “[It] doesn’t give curiosity time to incubate and grow.”
Jonathan Wai, a psychologist and research scientist at Duke University, recently reviewed Leslie’s book for Psychology Today. Here are his three takeaways for how to become more curious without consulting the Internet.
Leslie tells the story of John Lloyd, a successful British television producer who, after hitting a rough patch in his career, took time off work to take long walks and read books to satiate his curiosity. “[He read about] Socrates and ancient Athens,” Leslie writes. “He read about light and magnetism. He read about the Renaissance and the French impressionists. He had no method or plan, but simply followed his curiosity wherever it took him.”
Lloyd went on to produce the hit BBC comedic quiz show QI, where panelists earn points for being interesting, and he has branched out into recording podcasts and writing books.
A peek of Leonardo Da Vinci’s to-do list revealed 15 tasks; eight of which involved consulting with others, including: “Ask Maestro Antonio how mortars are positioned on bastions by day or night,” and “Find a Master of Hydraulics and get him to tell you how to repair a lock, canal, and mill in the Lombard manner.”
Wai notes that the list reveals the artist and inventor’s wide-ranging interests, as well as a deep interest in consulting with experts to learn something new.
Google is fine for finding an answer to your question, but it doesn’t provide the experience you’re likely to have while browsing a book store or the local library, where you serendipitously encounter information that, while not exactly on point, can lead to innovation, Wai notes.
“The more you know, the more you want to know,” Leslie says. By cultivating your knowledge base, you can make connections with the knowledge you have, he adds. “Curiosity is a muscle. Use it or lose it.”
Hat tip: Psychology Today