Practical Philosophy

The Value of Curiousity

There’s a saying I don’t much like; maybe you’ve heard it. It says “curiosity killed the cat.” The reason I don’t like it is pretty simple: it’s wrong. It drags the good name of curiosity through the mud for the sake of some supposed safety. It’s possible that curiosity contributed to the cat’s death, but it’s impossible that simple curiosity ever killed anyone or anything.

The reason I am so certain is that curiosity is only a desire to find out. Foolish curiosity may well have killed the cat. But that’s because a desire to find out can be carried out in a flawed and dangerous way, not that the desire on its own causes any harm.

I am happy to allow that the knowledge of why a dangerous thing works the way it does must be pursued with caution, but that does not mean that wanting to have that knowledge is dangerous. Obviously the proper response to a crazy woman running at you with a knife is not to wonder why. It is to run or strike back; to get clear of the danger.┬áBut once you’re safe, the desire to find out why the woman ran at you with the knife would likely bring only good things. Maybe you’d discover her need for mental care. Maybe you’d learn of the vicious rumors that are circling about you. Maybe you’d learn that she’s in a troubled relationship and that you look a lot like her boyfriend. Maybe you’d learn of her need for vision correction. Maybe one of an infinite number of other possibilities.

One constant for me in my life has been my insatiable desire to learn more. It’s impossible to say without sounding braggy, but many people tell me I’m the “smartest”┬áperson they know. This isn’t because I’m smarter than anyone, it’s simply that when I discover I don’t know something I pretty regularly insist on finding out. And I love sharing the things I know.

In this pursuit of learning, I’ve drawn great benefit from growing up in the dawn of the Internet Age. Truly, I would not know a third of the things I do without easy access to unlimited information. Self-education is now not only possible, but easy, and in many ways preferable to institutional learning.

It’s so magical we take it for granted, but Wikipedia is a great place to start learning anything. Surely some facts may be wrong, and some stories suffer from the editing style, but you no longer need to pay in installments for a hard-to-browse set of 23 books containing “encyclopedic” knowledge. And when your desire to learn goes deeper, you can easily reach out to communities of learned people on your topic of interest. It’s a curious person’s dream come true.

When faced with the choice between saying “that’s weird” or “that’s interesting,” I choose interested. When faced with the choice between being passively “interested” or digging deeper, I dig deeper. The effect of these choices has brought me almost everything I have today.

I’ll not tell you that incurious people never get anywhere; surely some have changed the world profoundly. But everywhere I look I see that people who get ahead are those who learn, and there is no greater accelerator to learning than the energy to pursue your idle curiosity. So the next time you think “I wonder why that is,” endeavor to find out. It just may change you life!

Standard