Life, Hope & Truth

From the July/August 2018 issue of Discern Magazine

The Curious Conundrum of Curiosity

It’s curious how curiosity can bring out the best and worst in us. How can we cultivate the benefits and avoid the pitfalls?

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Some believe the Bible is against curiosity. Consider the results of Eve’s experiment to find out if God was lying when He told Adam and her not to eat the forbidden fruit or they would die. (Actually, Eve was more focused on finding out if the serpent was right—that eating the fruit would open new vistas of knowledge that God could be hiding from them.)

Eve’s curiosity ruined her relationship with God. But think about Moses’ curiosity at seeing a burning bush. He was surprised and intrigued and said, “I will now turn aside and see this great sight, why the bush does not burn” (Exodus 3:3). That brought him closer to God!

Like so many things, curiosity can lead to good or evil, life or death.

Results

Albert Einstein said, “I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.”

Movie producer Brian Grazer said, “Curiosity has been the most valuable quality, the most important resource, the central motivation of my life” (A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life, p. xiii).

Would most of the great discoveries of science have come without curiosity? Would the great artists and creative geniuses have achieved the heights of their fields without the spark of wonder and the joy of discovery?

But if our yearning to explore beyond the current limits of knowledge produces the zenith of human accomplishments, obscene and morbid curiosity plumbs the depths of human evil.

Advertisers and websites hungry for traffic tap our innate desires with clickbait like:

  • “This Guy Did the Coolest, but Possibly Most Illegal, DIY Project Ever. The End Result? Genius.”
  • “This Man Posted an Ad Online That Could Shock (and Disgust) Almost Anyone.”

We’ve got to know. We’ve got to see. And even if we resist, they have planted the seed, and we can’t help but wonder…

Kinds of curiosity

Mario Livio, astrophysicist and author of Why? What Makes Us Curious, said:

“Curiosity has several kinds or flavors, and they are not driven by the same things. There is something that has been dubbed perceptual curiosity. That’s the curiosity we feel when something surprises us or when something doesn’t quite agree with what we know or think we know. That is felt as an unpleasant state, as an adversity state. It’s a bit like an itch that we need to scratch. That’s why we try to find out the information in order to relieve that type of curiosity.

“On the other hand, there is something that has been dubbed epistemic curiosity, which is a pleasurable state associated with an anticipation of reward. … That’s what drives all scientific research.”

Dr. Livio also mentioned “specific curiosity,” a question of fact that can be satisfied with an Internet search, and “diversive curiosity. That’s the thing when you see young people constantly on their smartphone, looking for text messages to ward off boredom” (Wharton).

Morbid curiosity

Curiosity can be good or bad, depending on what it leads us to think about and do.

Psychological Science reported on research that shows “our curiosity is sometimes so powerful that it leads us to choose potentially painful and unpleasant outcomes that have no apparent benefits, even when we have the ability to avoid these outcomes altogether. …

“‘Just as curiosity drove Pandora to open the box despite being warned of its pernicious contents, curiosity can lure humans—like you and me—to seek information with predictably ominous consequences,’ explains study author Bowen Ruan of the Wisconsin School of Business at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.”

Scientific American reported that one of the experiments found, however, that “participants who were encouraged to predict how they would feel after viewing an unpleasant picture were less likely to choose to see such an image. These results suggest that imagining the outcome of following through on one’s curiosity ahead of time can help determine whether it is worth the endeavor. ‘Thinking about long-term consequences is key to mitigating the possible negative effects of curiosity,’ [coauthor Christopher] Hsee says.”

Outside influences

Educators can effectively channel the power of curiosity through challenging questions and brain teasers.

But porn pushers and other nefarious sorts also make use of the power of curiosity. Of course we want to see what’s behind the curtain or behind the robe. Naturally we want to know what happens next. Certainly we find it hard to resist the exciting, the boundary pushing, the forbidden. We itch to know, we crave to understand, we deeply desire to experience what some say is off-limits and others claim will blow our mind.

How can we channel our natural curiosity in the right direction and deal with these outside influences?

Curb your carnal curiosity

When your curiosity is being tugged toward lust, gossip or any other sort of evil:

When we are exploring in our cars, we know the wisdom of staying on the road and obeying the traffic laws. We don’t let our curiosity lead us over a cliff.Don’t go there. Don’t let the titillating image or bawdy question get a foothold in your mind. Follow the lead of righteous Job, who said, “I have made a covenant with my eyes” to not lust for young women (Job 31:1).

Flee sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 6:18). Don’t be entertained by it, and don’t dwell on it and allow it to fill your mind with insatiable desire to experience it.

Consider this analogy: When we are exploring in our cars, we know the wisdom of staying on the road and obeying the traffic laws. We don’t let our curiosity lead us over a cliff. In a similar way with other kinds of curiosity, we need to learn where God places the guardrails and stay inside the lines. Keep your mind occupied on the good challenges and the mysteries that bring lasting benefits and no regrets.

Cultivate your creative curiosity

The Bible is full of fascinating questions and challenges. There are more than enough wonders and mysteries to last a human lifetime—and far beyond!

Never stop learning. School is just the start, and some believe it can be a bad one at that. Movie producer Brian Grazer said, “Authentic curiosity in a typical seventh-grade classroom isn’t cultivated—because it’s inconvenient and disruptive to the orderly running of the class” (p. 14).

Of course, there are some wonderfully creative teachers who ignite sparks of curiosity in their students. But, depending on when and where you went to school, you may need to unlearn some of the ways formal education has crushed your curiosity and curbed your creativity. Even if you didn’t enjoy school, you can rekindle the pure joy and excitement of discovery.

Cultivating curiosity also involves mental effort. “For it to be effective, curiosity has to be harnessed to at least two other key traits. First, the ability to pay attention to the answers to your questions. …. The second trait is the willingness to act” (A Curious Mind, p. 9).

Curiosity can be applied positively in every area of life. Being curious can even help our relationships. Wondering how other people see things, really wanting to know what they’ve experienced and what they are thinking can help us make friends and strengthen relationships.

Curiosity can help us in getting a good job and constantly improving in our career.

Curiosity is a necessary ingredient for innovation and creativity.

The frontier of human knowledge is expanding in every direction, so you can choose to laser focus and explore where no one has gone before, or you can broaden your perspective and find interconnections between different fields that have never been noticed.

Keep wondering, exploring, looking for better and faster ways to do things. If necessity is the mother of invention, a healthy curiosity may be the father.Don’t stop asking questions. Google is great, but asking an actual human might give you an unexpected insight or a new perspective. As Brian Grazer said, “You can’t search for the answer to questions that haven’t been asked yet. And you can’t Google a new idea” (p. 197).

Keep wondering, exploring, looking for better and faster ways to do things. If necessity is the mother of invention, a healthy curiosity may be the father.

Every answer brings a new question

Does the joy of curiosity and creativity ever have to stop?

Dr. Livio said,The nature of scientific research, but sometimes even artistic contemplation, is that the answer to every question just brings about a new question. Sometimes the new question is even more intriguing than the original question, so you may become more curious about it.”

The Bible says our loving God wants us to be His children (1 John 3:1). And what does He have in store for His children?

“Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).

God has had eternity to prepare! Can you imagine an eternity of discovery, creativity and joy?

So I’m curious: What are you most curious about? Let us know on our Facebook page.

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