Monthly Archives: December 2016

Day 122 – Other ways down the rabbit hole

As you can tell, I’ve become really interested in this idea about the rabbit hole. A few evenings ago I was listening to the radio while cooking dinner. In Austria, we have a really good station for going down the rabbit hole—Ö1. Although they air a lot of music as well, they focus a great deal on talk radio, covering (for me) really interesting topics like Robert Burns and how Scotland inspired central European poetry and music. (Haydn arranged something like 300 Scottish folksongs for voice and piano trio. He had so much success with the first 150, he did a second batch.)

A few evenings ago the show was about time, bringing in tidbits about clocks, and the history of time as a social construct, and how the moon affects the tides and the future can run into the past. To paraphrase Graslie: How can you be curious about something you’ve never thought to be curious about because it is always there? 😉

On that note, may your New Year be one filled with happy trips down the rabbit hole, Wikipedia or otherwise, and the benefits of curiosity!

Day 121 – Relevance in education

Actually, when I went back to the original text I found out that what Ellen Langer was writing about in her book Mindfulness was (prescribed) outcomes in learning. What she says in a nutshell (direct quote below) is that a single-minded pursuit of an outcome stands in the way of mindfulness. She makes a plea for more attention to be paid to the process through which a goal is reached. It seems, one could say, she’d like us to pay attention to how we achieve something rather than whether we achieve it. I would argue that her proposed approach requires curiosity—an openness to what is happening without a strong desire to control the outcome.

In connection with my last two posts–if we are very focused on the outcome (which, granted, sometimes we have to be), we are less likely to go down the “Wikipedia rabbit hole” and less likely to learn new things or even learn about new things to learn about. (“You can’t be curious about something if you don’t know it exists.”)


What Ellen Langer wrote in her own words: A very different, but not incompatible, explanation for why we become mindless had to do with our early education. From kindergarten on, the focus of schooling is usually on goals rather than on the process by which they are achieved. This single-minded pursuit of one outcome or another, from tying shoelaces to getting into Harvard, makes it difficult to have a mindful attitude about life.

When children start a new activity with an outcome orientation, questions of “Can I?” or “What if I can’t do it?” are likely to predominate, creating an anxious preoccupation with success or failure rather than drawing on the child’s natural, exuberant desire to explore. Instead of enjoying the color of the crayon, the designs on the paper, and a variety of possible shapes along the way, the child sets about writing a “correct” letter A …

In contrast, a process orientation, which we will explore when we look at creativity in Chapter 7, asks “How do I do it?” instead of “Can I do it?” and thus directs attention toward defining the steps that are necessary on the way. This orientation can be characterized in terms of the guiding principle that there are no failures, only ineffective solutions.

In computer programming classes for children, a major activity is “bug fixing”—figuring out new solutions, instead of getting hung up on a particular one that didn’t work. Provisional goals are subject to continual revision. The process-oriented person is less likely to be caught off-guard if circumstances change.

The style of education that concentrates on outcomes generally also presents facts unconditionally. This approach encourages mindlessness. If something is presented as an accepted truth, alternative ways of thinking do not even come up for consideration. Such a single-minded way of viewing the world can generalize to everything we do. By teaching absolutes we pass our culture from one generation to the next. It brings stability. But as we will see, the cost may be high.


Day 120 – “The Value of Curiosity” – a TED talk

One thing I’ve meant to do with this blog all along is exercise curiosity about what curiosity is. What do other people have to say on the topic? What does science have to say? I decided that TED talks would be a good place to start and a day or two ago watched my first talk specifically on the topic of curiosity: “The Value of Curiosity” by Emily Graslie, Chief Curiosity Correspondent for the Field Museum in Chicago. (Isn’t that an intriguing job title?)

Frankly, I had a bit of trouble following the talk, not because it was too technical but because it rambled rather. (For the record I am aware of the irony of complaining on a blog dedicated to curiosity about a talk on curiosity because it isn’t very structured or focused.)

Some interesting points came out of it though, like the phrase “Wikipedia rabbit hole” (covered yesterday) where one search leads to another until half an hour later you realize you’ve looked up ten different topics and are miles away from where you started. (You don’t need Wikipedia to do this, by the way. On summer vacation my family used to do this using a slew of reference works like the Columbia encyclopedia, nature guides, the American Heritage dictionary, abridged Oxford English dictionary, and so on.)

I was also struck by her statement on the value of following the rabbit hole: “You can’t be curious about something if you don’t know it exists.”

Tomorrow I’d like to get into what Ellen Langer wrote about the call for relevance in education. It’s related.

Day 119 – Wikipedia rabbit holes

I have just heard the expression “Wikipedia rabbit hole” for the first time, listening to a TED talk on the value of curiosity (more about the talk itself tomorrow). It described perfectly the conversation I had on Christmas Day with a friend’s partner, one of my most faithful readers and a very curious person who often—now I know the technical term—goes down a Wikipedia rabbit hole. He had just read my post about the CD I was given and immediately shared what he had learned about bassoons and their forerunners. He started by looking up what “bassoon” is in German, his native language. It went from there and ended up with some very funny looking, almost bulky forerunners like the rackett.

One benefit? Even if you never need the information it can be incredibly refreshing to go on just such a trip (when you have time to do so). And, with luck, you may be able to amaze your friends and relatives with what you know (and discover a new Scrabble word ;-)).


Day 118 – Just the facts, ma’am

Today I was walking with my dog in the woods and saw a trio, one person with a walker on wheels, walking down the hill ahead of us. The person using the walker (looked like an adolescent daughter out with her parents) was having some difficulty as the hill was pretty steep. My immediate reaction was “Poor girl, poor parents.” I pretty quickly realized that this was based in my assumption that they would find it hard to enjoy life under the circumstances. I decided to look again and saw that they looked as if they were enjoying their walk together. That step back, suspending interpretation, is also a form of curiosity,  I think.

Day 116 – New things

I’ve already mentioned that one of the wonderful things about writing this blog is that people recommend (or even give me) books, for example, to help with my curiosity quest. In this case, just as I was–in the stress of holiday preparations–(temporarily) running out of things to post about, a fellow dog person greeted me on the morning walk with “Ms. Curiosity” and handed me a CD. It was a very special CD, one that she as a leading bassoonist recorded. Every single piece is one that I have not heard before and so this helped me in my curiosity quest in several ways—I’d never heard her play, I didn’t know the pieces, and I don’t know much about the a bassoon as a solo instrument. It opened doors for me. What a wonderful early Christmas present!