Day 088 – Can curiosity hibernate?

The easy answer to this question is “yes”. In fact, one reader wrote to tell me that the post on my curiosity slump was one of the most inspiring for her. In this case, I’d like to reflect on the why hibernation is a good idea and what might cause curiosity to hibernate.

One of the most interesting courses I have taken in a while was a course on reaching success with greater serenity or composure (“Mit mehr Gelassenheit zum Erfolg”, for the German speakers among my readers). One of the exercises that I remember best was working in small groups to discuss the basic emotions: anger, grief, fear, joy, and (the facilitator added) love. We were to discuss first of all the (evolutionary) reason we believed each of these emotions had developed and become universal. It had, perhaps stupidly, never occurred to me that emotions are there to serve a survival-related purpose, and I jumped into the exercise with enthusiasm.

Greatly simplified: we feel anger when our boundaries have been violated and the power of that anger helps us defend ourselves; we feel grief when we have lost someone or something dear to us and the sadness and lack of energy keeps us close to home where we are safe at a vulnerable time; we feel fear when we are in danger and it triggers the stress reaction which helps us fight, freeze, or flee as needed; joy was described to us as the engine of life (“Lebensmotor”), the force that gives us positive energy, makes it all worthwhile, and keeps us going; and love helps us build connections with other beings, without which we would die.

In this sense, what evolutionary purpose does hibernation serve? Rather obviously for animals, when times are tough, the weather is freezing, and there is no food to be had, hibernation keeps animals alive by dialing down their metabolisms and allowing them to hole up and live on what they have managed to store in body fat. They need no new nourishment until spring comes, when they emerge from their dens thinner and ready to forage again. (Actually, they emerge ravenous and potentially dangerous, but that is another story.)

When might it be a good idea to let your curiosity hibernate? When you’ve stored up enough nourishment, times are tough, the weather is cold, and you need a break.

I’m taking a break today. 😉

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