The Curiosity Trait

“The first and simplest emotion which we discover in the human mind, is curiosity.” ~ Edmund Burke

As with all traits curiosity is on the spectrum from one to one hundred percent (from little curiosity to a lot). Starting from the moment of birth curiosity is the beginning of a process of how we perceive the world and how we relate to it. If children's basic needs are met, they continually experience life with a sense of newness, wonder, and unbridled curiosity. It is the motivator for what we create, what we do, and where we go.

As individuals become older their world becomes more predictable and often the uncensored curiosity of childhood diminishes. As adults, I think most of us spend much of our time doing predictable behavior and, as such, don't engage in curiosity much of the time. This is particularly true in good times. Much of our curiosity is trivialized, such as wondering if the Seahawks will win a second Super Bowl. However, in times of stress and increased uncertainty, external conditions demand both curiosity and the flexibility of thought in solving problems that can't be effectively dealt with by using existing models. This is what thinking outside the box means. Albert Einstein said "You can not solve the problem by using the same information that created the problem in the first place. New solutions are required because situations are changing.”

Need channels and spurs curiosity. It was curiosity combined with the need for survival that propelled small groups of humans living in Africa to migrate out of Africa a million years ago and to become the dominant creature on this planet.

Curiosity starts with “how do I survive, how do I meet my basic needs?” Once our basic needs have been met the tendency is to find ways that we can improve our circumstances. To paraphrase Walt Disney, “We keep moving forward, we open new doors, and doing new things, because we are curious and curiosity keeps leading us to new paths.” We wonder how we stretch our thinking to things that are potentially beneficial to ourselves and for humanity or society as well. It is how we discover the world.

It is what drove, and continues to drive, explorers, inventors, scientists, and artists. Famous sculptors from Michelangelo to Tony Angell see the potential in the raw stone and through their sense of curiosity and their skill, are driven to the finished product. It is the same sense that drives nearly all the technological and scientific discoveries in the cultural evolution of the species. The drive to learn new information, go to new places, or perform some new action is often initiated by the anticipation of the emotional sense of relief and satisfaction when the unknown becomes known. Motivation and reward are intrinsically tied to the phenomenon of curiosity. Rewards for curiosity are acquiring land for resources and excess population, markets, colonies, power, and wealth as well as the intangible sense of accomplishment. This has resulted in dominating not only all regions of earth but probing the universe, and barring a social collapse, possibly colonizing space and contact of the almost certain reality of life on other planets.

The urge to explore the unknown has driven human progress. Explorers are motivated by a sense of curiosity combined with a sense of adventure. For some, it is also the wonder of discovering the unknown combined with the thrill of the adventure, the adrenalin rush of danger, and the exertion of physical and mental challenges. Explorations started with groups deciding to move into the next valley, or make a better boat to explore a land seen in the distance across the water. This curiosity was often combined with the need or desire for a better way to survive due to population pressure. Adventure combined with the drive to be successful in their pursuits provides the impetus for achieving a goal. After the last Ice Age, the goal was to acquire new land as farming replaced hunting/gathering as the primary means of survival. Other interests spurred new technologies and exploration based on commerce, on the acquisition of land for colonies, power, and wealth. As modern humans began migrating out of Africa they moved north, then splitting with one branch going westward into Europe and the other going eastward.

They split once again, as one group headed north from southern Asia, to China and Mongolia and the other going south to Austral-Asia and Australia. During the third Ice Age, a land bridge approximately 15,000 years ago was created and human groups were on the move again. This resulted in the subsequent colonization of the Western Hemisphere. About the same time some 12,000 years ago groups of humans from the Chinese coast opposite the island of Taipei crossed over the South Pacific on a new type of transportation. This outrigger canoe made it possible for human colonization on the widely separated islands of the Pacific Ocean.

Most inventions and discoveries are the result of curiosity. It started with the use of the first flint pebble tool eight million years ago to the exploration of inner as well as outer space today. It is the pleasure of learning new information and is often initiated by the anticipation of the reward of knowledge or tangible achievement that propels individuals throughout their lives and has propelled humanity from small hunting/gathering groups in Africa into the frontier of outer and inner space. Technology is the catalyst that allows the manifestation of curiosity to ever more remote areas of knowledge in both the micro and macro world.

Curiosity spurs the development of new technology but crisis often drives where curiosity is directed. Necessity is the mother of invention. Wars, commerce, colonization, and other economic motives focus the direction of new technologies. All of that development started with a sense of curiosity. The improvements in technology and the building and improving of infrastructure lead to new frontiers for our curiosity such as space exploration, medicine, or new sources of energy.

“The scientist is motivated primary by curiosity and a desire for truth.” ~ Irving Langmuir

Other interests spurred new technologies and exploration based on commerce, on the acquisition of new land. By the time civilizations started five to six thousand years ago in the river valley of Mesopotamia, society was sufficiently organized for diversity and specialization. These different interests spurred new technologies and exploration based on commerce, on the acquisition of land for colonies started coastal trade routes over land and in the Indian Ocean. They were, in all probability, the catalyst for the revolutionary transformation of society from Neolithic farming/herding societies started in Mesopotamia in the mid-fourth millennium and spread, probably by trade contact, in the Nile Valley by the beginning of the third millennium before the commonly accepted year zero and 500 years later in the Indus Valley. Chinese civilization started independently half a millennium after that.

In a little over seven millennia, human society in fits and starts continues to organize itself into larger political, social, and economic units to where we are on the verge of a single global society. If we are to survive the present chaos and explore the universe it will be driven by our sense of curiosity and a sense of purpose along with adventure.