Day 078 – Why we’re curious

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, one of the wonderful things about writing this blog is how others contribute by offering books, articles, and presentations. A friend who is a reader of my blog, writer of her own blog on biology and the life sciences, and cancer researcher sent me the link to this really pertinent article called “Curiosity depends on what you already know” from the online science magazine Nautilus.

I found particularly interesting in this article that:

  • Scientists consider curiosity a natural drive, like the drive to eat, drink, reproduce, and so on.
  • Curiosity is unusual in that it doesn’t have as obvious a purpose as the other natural drives.
  • Nonetheless there are rewards to behaving curiously that are measurable in the pleasure centers of our brains.
  • There could be a point to curiosity from an evolutionary standpoint in that the more information we have the better choices we may be able to make. (The “Grass is always greener on the other side of the fence” proverb came to mind as I read about the miniature worms that will leave a patch of their favorite food in order to explore. Maybe there is even yummier food elsewhere?)
  • Curiosity is said to be a “function of motivation and direction” so we are motivated by the rewards mentioned above to seek and each of us has particular directions—the article calls them “unique obsessions” ;-)—we will choose to seek in. (The next time someone bores you with his or her “unique obsession,” whether it is special vintages (wine or car) or sports statistics, be kind. Apparently we are biologically programed to go after ever more information.)
  • We are not likely to pursue new information in a curious way if the information is too easy (not new enough) or too hard (way beyond what we already know). They call this the “Goldilocksian level of information.” 😉
  • By having rewards built in robots can be programed to keep trying until they learn to do something. (I’ve seen “2001: Space Odyssey” and “I, Robot” so I actually find this last point a bit scary and am reminded of a prominent author of an artificial intelligence book in the 1980s who spoke about transplanting human brain cells into computers so that the machine had creativity and incredible calculating power. He couldn’t understand why we weren’t immediately ready to make his “unique obsession” our own.)

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