We are all born with an innate desire to know. As children, all of us were natural freethinkers and rule-breakers. A child’s mind is totally open. They believe that anything and everything is possible. They take nothing for granted, as a result they never hesitate in asking all kinds of questions: Why is the sky blue? Why are grass green? Who’s that in the mirror?
Such open-mindedness, such absence of fear towards questioning anything we don’t understand – this is a human being’s natural state.
However, as adults, the habit of asking questions can fall to the wayside. Sometimes, we fear that asking questions will make us appear stupid, as asking questions is an admission of ignorance. And fear of looking stupid is very real when our ego, or our pay cheque, is tied up in not looking stupid. Whereas, other-times Fear of failure is a big inhibitor. Young children don’t have this fear because they are yet to be consumed by their ego.
Unfortunately, the older we become, the more our curiosity declines until we eventually reach a point at which we no longer feel we need to learn anything: a saturation point.
Our faith in our accumulated knowledge makes us intellectually lazy, causing us to suffer from the overconfidence effect: most of us think that we already know everything.
Few of the methods that can help us in retaining that child like curiosity and stay curious right through our life:
1: QUESTIONS: Along with “how” questions, one should inculcate the habit of asking “why”, “why not” and “what if” questions. If you can combine healthy scepticism with a lack of cynicism, then you are successful in developing a mind that is open to possibility.
2: KNOWLEDGE IN TRUE SENSE: There is a difference between knowing something rather than just knowing the name of something. If I can point to an insect and identify it as a butterfly and I can also tell you what it is called in ten other languages, it doesn’t mean that I know anything useful about the butterflies. All it tells you is what humans in different cultures label it. If we really want to know the butterflies, we need to observe it closely and to reflect on what we see.
3: AMALGAMATION OF DIVERSIVE AND EPISTEMIC CURIOSITY: Diversive curiosity, is little more than a craving for new input, i.e., the desire for more novelty and excitement. At it’s very worst, diversive curiosity becomes aimless, little more than distraction. We’ve all succumbed to this kind of curiosity late night on the web. Clicking on one really interesting looking link quickly leads to clicking another, and then another. Eventually, we realise that we’ve spent hours watching funny videos on YouTube, way past our bedtime.
This contrasts with epistemic curiosity, which is all about the desire to know something new. This kind of curiosity goes far deeper and takes more work to sustain. It is a conscious choice, requiring self-discipline, effort and focus. However this doesn’t mean that you have to choose one kind of curiosity over the other. In fact, to achieve sustainable learning, there has to be amalgamation of both the types: diversive curiosity is a good way to familiarise yourself with basic information about a topic. But you’ll have to supplement it with epistemic curiosity in order to help you dig deeper, gather specialised knowledge and avoid the temptation of distraction.
4: FIRST STEP TOWARDS CREATIVITY: Creativity is the product of novel connections between seemingly unrelated thoughts and ideas. Consequently, the more you know, the more connections you can make. Therefore, it’s absolutely necessary to first accumulate a database of knowledge before any creative work can happen.
Hence, Curiosity can be thought of as a cognitive muscle that has to be constantly nurtured and fed with new knowledge in order for it to grow and flourish. If you can successfully master this art, then you’ll have a greater chance at being more fulfilled in your job, at school as well as in your personal life. So, always stay curious.
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