Curious?

10 Mar

My wonder of curiosity led me to write the post about it.

On this blog, Cookieland, every Tuesday, I post word of the week. Unfortunately I write Tuesday’s posts in Slovene. Anyway I already presented brains, machines, anger, masks and much more. Writing my Tuesday’s posts, I learned a lot. I was always curious, and keen on getting new knowledge; actually, still I am. Every now and then I fall into a black hole of questions. What am I doing? Did I choose the right master course for me? (I am a student of Cognitive Science on University of Ljubljana.) Even so I know that cognitive science, especially neuroscience, is a hot topic in some countries. People in Slovenia usually think I am some kind of a magician and that there is no use in having knowledge about human mind. I disagree. I think that for a curious human like me this is probably the best master course I could have attended. Even so, I have weeks when I am completely absent and confused. But when I just go with the flow, I realize that I really enjoy myself studying philosophy, artificial intelligence and neuroscience. The most of all I enjoy when I am able to make connections in all of those different fields. So let me explain you something about my curiosity.

To start with from where does curiosity come?

I don’t know the answer. All I can tell is a little story. I love to attend Ljubljana Film Festival every November. A few years ago I watched a movie which somehow had to be related with a word curiosity. Unfortunately, I cannot recall the title, but I just remember my feelings. When I got home, there was just one question on my mind: Where does curiosity come from? Are we born with it? Is it hidden somewhere deep down in human nature? I was troubling people around me with this “silly” question. Everyone wanted me to stop. But I am lucky to have well educated dad. Who told me to check for the answer in Aristotle’s Metaphysics. Where I found this explanation: “All men by nature desire to know.” It goes further on with explaining sensation, memory and knowledge. Which leads to explaining the wondering. “That it is not a science of production is clear even from the history of the earliest philosophers. For it is owing to their wonder that men both now begin and at first began to philosophize; they wondered originally at the obvious difficulties, then advanced little by little and stated difficulties about the greater matters, e.g. about the phenomena of the moon and those of the sun and of the stars, and about the genesis of the universe.” An answer I got was satisfactory for me back then. When humans have time and resources to start wondering, they do start philosophize. In nowadays society that sounds a bit folish.

But since Aristotle’s time, 4th century BC, things changed. As if we have got molecular biology that will give us all of the answers to all our questions. It is all hidden in membranes and proteins. I have a bachelor’s degree in biology and I am very fond of molecular biology, so humanists reading this post, I hope you can forgive. Anyway, as a former life science student, I must also admit I haven’t read the whole Metaphysics, but just parts that gave me answer about wondering and curiosity. But I think that even molecular biology and all sort of different modeling of brain networks won’t give us all of answers. Nevertheless, research in molecular biology can give us applicable knowledge to cure diseases, to help environment, to save the Earth.

It is in our nature to be curious. This reminded me on my 5th grade in primary school. When I broke my leg during winter on snowboarding. I had to stay at home for a week. What to do at home alone? As a child of the late 80’s, I was also a bit of a couch potato, especially if I had any broken bones. I watched television and discovered the series Sofies Verden. The series mentioned it was recorded after the book which led me to discovery of the book called Sophie’s World. I asked my mum to buy it and I read it in super extreme fast time. I felt in love with philosophy.

However, somewhere in the first pages of the book there is a story about a rabbit fur. Imagine white rabbit taken out of the magician hat. When we are born, we found ourselves at the very end of long rabbit hair. But during the period of growing up, we are slowly sliding deep down into a rabbit fur. Only the people who have enough courage and wonder stay at the end of hair and ask all sorts of different questions. And as explained in the book, those fearless people are philosophers. I would say it is not necessary to be a philosopher to ask questions: biologists and other curious people also question many important things. But the majority just slip down in the safe and warm part of rabbit fur. That led me to become who I am, the girl with a lot of questions in my mind. I can say the story about rabbit fur changed me and all of that happened long ago.

Probably my desire to know everything led me to study biology in the first place. I love biology. I got knowledge about how the first life came to be. Even so we don’t have got a proof of what was exactly going on. We have some ideas. I learned about origin of eukaryotic cells, from where did multi-cellular life came to be. I found out how did plants occupied land and how did Tiktaalik came from water to land, which led to occupation of land by animals. Besides I know how important is environment and ecology and that we take care for all of the organisms and not just us, humans. Because we all evolved from the same universal common ancestor, LUCA. Furthermore, I could probably list another billions of questions that biology has answers to or is still questioning about.

To sum up my biology period. Biology is super cool, not just if you are an animal or plant person and love nature. But also if you want answers to some important questions. I miss biology.

Nevertheless, a study of mind and cognition is giving me answers to other questions in my mind. Furthermore, it gives me new questions to answer and think about. It occupies my mind.

A part of cognitive science, which is nowadays very popular, covers education. How to improve school systems, programs? Should kids in preschool play more or just gain more knowledge, should they use new technology as tablet computers and Internet, or not? Recently I bumped to the article in Scientific American Mind about Preschool in USA.

The author Paul Tullis compares private preschools to public ones, and besides that he questions whether kids at the age of 5 really need to know algebra and distinguish different types of whales, or should they just play and socialize. He concludes it is better to play at that age than to learn rocket science. In my opinion, kids have to socialize, so the normal neural pathways can be developed. But not just because of that, as kids, we learn from experiences, we have to try stuff; we have to get dirty; now just to injure ourselves, but also, from microbiological point of view, to get some pathogens as well as some friendly bacteria in our body. So our immune system can develop. We all know that the best way to learn is to learn by doing. All of this should apply also to life sciences education, as well as what was written in the article about Learning by Doing: “Imagine the impact on the arts if we required every aspiring instrumentalist to complete 12 years of theory and careful study of the masters before being allowed to pick up an instrument and play.”

Getting back to curiosity. I found YouTube video talk about superwoman, who invented Montessori educational method.

They encourage kids to ask questions, and they are super great. As you can see on Wikipedia page, kids develop “mathematician” mind. What can be greater than having a ten years old with the knowledge of twenty years old, but without any playful spark in their eyes? I don’t know if this is the result of over-educational preschools. But as described in the Scientific American article, the Montessori Method is not that great. It is nice that they encourage curiosity and that they answer questions with answers; this is the best way to learn. But also parents should do that, when kid asks the billionth why question a day.

To sum up the story about curiosity. Curiosity leads into the future; it gives us answers, and what is more important, it provides even more questions. It opens new possibilities, new perspective on things. It might not be very useful if we want to be a capitalistic machine, but it can definitely fulfill our life and makes us special. Besides that it leads to progress. Maybe even to living on Mars.

To end with another video promoting curiosity. The future belongs to the curious. 

If I may borrow the words written on Brain Pickings page: “I bet legendary physicist Richard Feynman would approve.”

I don’t know where my curiosity and wonder will lead me. I just know that I will try to do everything not to fall deep into rabbit fur. On the other hand, I will still be searching for answers and asking new questions. I want to encourage also you, reader, to be curious, and you can comment with answering what is curiosity for you, or just to give me some feedback.

That is it! I realized that this is what I want to be! I want to be curious and to wonder every day.

Z

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