Monday, November 2, 2009

The Death of Curiosity:
Jim Styro's Meaning of Life, Part Fourteen

The thought occurred to me recently - that I am no longer as curious as I used to be.

I could probably come up with a lot of reasons why that has come to pass. I'm older, I know more, so there's less to be curious about. I'm older, so there's more things I don't want to know (like what are my daughter and her fiance doing during their sleepovers? Hell, I know damn well what they're doing! The same thing I was doing with my fiance 30 years ago.) I'm confronted with so much information from modern media that my mind is occupied with absorbing the information already bombarding me - not seeking out more stuff to try to absorb.

These reasons all have varying degrees of validity - but I don't think they tell the real story. (The "I know more" one is particularly weak, since the amount of "What I know" as a percentage of "What there is to be known" hasn't even caused the Knowledge-O-Meter to jiggle during my entire stay on this planet...) The biggest reason why I'm not very curious anymore is:
I'm just too damn busy to be curious.

You've heard of "idle curiosity"? People use the phrase like it's a bad thing - but I'm not so sure. In any case, I'm pretty sure a prerequisite for idle curiosity is...being idle. If your time and your mind are constantly occupied with "what is going on right now", there's little or no room for curiosity to creep in.

Which, in and of itself, wouldn't be a cause of concern - I mean, who cares whether or not Jim Styro is curious. But I think we're ALL getting too busy to be curious. And I think that general phenomenon could be more of a problem.

Consider for a moment the sort of situations in which your mind seems to work best, is the most open and creative. Is it when there is a flood of information, sensation or ideas being thrown at you? Is it when you are bearing down, highly focused, intent on an objective? Is it when you let go, relax your mind and let it wander for a minute or two in a happy place? Ask yourself: When you can't remember something, when something is on the tip of your tongue but you can't quite come up with it - and it's bugging you - what do you do?)

Like most things, I think the mind benefits from some variety - but I fear that our culture and lifestyles don't permit as much as we need. It's not that we don't like to think at all (although that is a problem that deserves a separate examination) - but even when we do, it tends to be reactive, frantic and...directed. This last point, I think, is particularly harmful to the curious nature. Because I think we tend to confuse the "pursuit of knowledge" with curiosity.

"The pursuit of knowledge" is noble and useful - but it is most often done with a particular objective (or worse, a conclusion) in mind. When I worked for the federal government, my friends and I there had a humorous motto that we intended to have printed on T-shirts.

It said:
If you know the answer, you don't have to think
A saying both funny and true - but dangerous to thinkers everywhere. In our haste - to make money, to be first, to not "waste time" - we have dismissed the importance of idle curiosity. And if we do that, if we stop letting our minds wander where they will go, we risk not only missing the inspiration that we may find from the wandering - but our minds may forget how to wander.

I say we need to start exercising our curiosity muscles - before they atrophy.

Take care.

PS: Lest you think that I hadn't noticed, my lovely wife, the Middle-Aged Woman, has partnered up with Captain Dumbass (my hero - or is he now my rival?) to bring you
the Zombie News Network!

Don't miss it - or heads will roll.


TennLady said...

Were you and MAW an item 30 years ago? I don't think so! She wasn't your fiance then either!

Jim Styro said...

Well, if you want to get technical about it - our first date was in January 1980 (I could be off by a year - but I don't think so). And we got engaged in the summer of 1982. So I'm "near as dammit".

Ellie Belen said...

I agree you just don't have enough time on your hands. It seems the older you get the more there is to do. Who knew that our 20's were the easy go lucky times of our lives.