Studies have shown that the average 4 year-old asks between 300-400 questions per day, while adults ask only 20. Is this because us adults know everything that needs to be known already? Not necessarily, but we do know enough to get through our day, unlike a toddler.
Ian Leslie, author of Curious: The Desire to Know and Why Your Future Depends On It, refers to the toddler's curiosity to ask all these questions as Diversive Curiosity (which makes one want to explore new places, people, and things…think of it as a search for novelty). For the most part, adults don’t run into anything novel on an average day, so there isn’t as much of a need for us to ask questions of others or to point to something that sparks our interest and wait for a knowledgeable adult to come to our rescue to either give us the toy or show us how it works.
There are, however, two additional “curiosities” that Leslie coins Epistemic Curiosity and Empathic Curiosity. Where these two differ lies in the motivation behind the intent—epistemic is the curiosity that makes you want to dig deeper and learn everything you can about a subject, while empathic focuses on an individual and your drive to understand the real person and why they do what they do. These two “curiosities” are typically used more so by adults.
Ian Leslie makes the argument that without this drive and curiosity for novelty, the other two are damn near impossible, mainly because you don’t know what you don’t know. Without actively searching for new experiences, we don’t collide with any new ideas or learn anything—we don’t build up our database of knowledge. Leslie argues that it’s this database of knowledge that is the driving force of curiosity. Knowledge loves knowledge. Without this search for novelty, you will never know what you don’t know and won’t be able to identify any knowledge gaps, which could spark you wanting to learn more about a person, or a subject. You become incurious.
This is the wonderful thing about reading—you are constantly colliding with new thoughts, ideas, viewpoints, authors, etc. By seeking out knowledge through reading, that prerequisite of curiosity, Diversive Curiosity, is there for you to begin to explore the other two. While reading alone, in my opinion, isn’t enough to actually learn something, it is a great start.
One of my goals for this year was to be more curious and it just so happened I stumbled upon Leslie’s book by reading a different book, so naturally I had to check it out and give it a read. This is exactly what Leslie outlines in his book about curiosity and this drive for a deeper understanding—I became so curious about this book (obviously it helped that curiosity was a goal going into the year) by reading another that I just had to get my hands on it. And by the way, I am glad I did. It’s a great book and I definitely recommend it. But, I discovered a knowledge gap...I didn’t know a whole lot about what it truly means to be curious, why some are more curious than others, and why Ian Leslie argues that your future depends on curiosity.
Admittedly, being curious, and staying curious, are rather difficult. I can get complacent in not wanting to learn anything new and stick to my mundane day because it’s easier, though extremely boring. Yet again, Ian provides many arguments from others who state that nothing is boring, we just aren’t looking at it thoughtfully enough or spending enough time with it. There are countless examples in this book where even the most mundane and boring things, like a can of soup can become interesting—thanks, Andy Warhol.
We live in a world today where knowledge is plentiful and on-demand, which is both a blessing and a curse. The internet is actively working to eliminate our curiosity by providing answers to our questions in a matter of seconds (thanks, Alexa). Now that we have these answers instantly, we shrug and move on with our day without that urge to dig deeper and explore. But, if you seek out learning, which again is an active process, you will lay the very foundation of curiosity which will launch you into the world of the unknown. Who knows what you will discover there....
To borrow the words from Steve Jobs’s Commencement address, “stay hungry, stay foolish”.