Many people have already heard about the study that showed that London taxi drivers (the ones who had to learn to navigate without GPS) have larger hippocampuses than a control group. (The hippocampus is the part of the brain believed to be responsible for memory and navigation processes.) Now there is a study that suggests that using maps rather than GPS to navigate can be healthy for our brains, especially as we age, and not just good for our curiosity practice.
Read more here, if you are curious 😉 about the study: https://medicalxpress.com/news/2010-11-reliance-gps-hippocampus-function-age.html
The class I taught on Saturday reminded me of something–how interesting it can be to trace my impressions back to what caused them. I find a room pleasant? What exactly gave me that impression? I don’t entirely trust someone? Again, where does that impression come from?
It’s especially important in the intercultural field (the subject I was teaching) because many of our reactions are culture-bound. I think someone is trying to intimidate me because he is standing too close? It could be that he comes from a culture with a smaller “space bubble” and I need to factor that into my interpretation. Awareness of one’s reaction followed by a curious examination of the triggers are an indispensable part of better understanding in a situation like that.
The funniest, most concise example I have found of this dynamic is this (seen on Facebook):
Now, I wonder why they’re thinking what they’re thinking. 😉
Yesterday I taught a full day, a topic I hadn’t taught in almost 10 months but otherwise have been teaching for over 15 years. The combination of the break and the long experience helped me approach the course afresh but with great confidence.
What I was happiest about was the way I could engage with students who asked questions or made statements I didn’t understand or sometimes even agree with. I entered into an exploration of their point with curiosity, something I couldn’t have done many years ago when I started. In those days, I was so wrapped up with following my timetable and getting the main points across I simply wasn’t able to deal constructively with what felt like interruptions and detours to me. But, guess what–it turns out a lot of the points aren’t detours at all but real contributions to the course. I can appreciate that now and inquire more deeply.
Spring is coming to Vienna. The snow is gone and the ground is thawing, turning into mud. I was out walking with my dog and got caught up in a meadow that had some very wet places. I thought about embracing the situation and entering it with curiosity. There are a lot of inspirational quotes about facing up to one’s dragons and so on. And then I thought about the clean up afterwards, the mud everywhere, and the sneakers that stay wet for a couple of days, and I decided I did not have to try out the mud, even if this is my Year of Living Curiously. I already know what it feels like. I can pass on this.
Today I heard that one of my favorite bookstores from my earlier life in New England is closing its doors. It was a specialty bookstore, providing books in languages other than English, and will carry on online, but the store itself will be gone.
My reaction to this news showed me what an important form of curiosity browsing is to me. The 21st century version of browsing includes going down the Wikipedia rabbit hole, for example, and has charms of its own, but for me it will never compete with walking into a space designed for browsing, where you can put your hands on a book, and dip into that book easily. Amazon tries to provide this feeling with its “Look inside” function, but I find that singularly frustrating and can never really get an idea of what a book is like that way.
In my opinion, when it comes to books the internet is great if you already have a title in mind. You can get what you specifically want quickly, easily, and sometimes more cheaply. (No wonder those brick-and-mortar stores are struggling!) However, it is not great for finding out in a roundabout, enriching, surprising, curious way what is out there. It’s rather like GPS compared to maps.
It seems a good time to revisit this exercise, perhaps because I’m going through one of those phases where I’m eating almost entirely tried and true food. Also, I’ve simply always been fond of this memory.
When I was 10, my family bought some land in Vermont from a couple whose family had farmed it for generations. They became good friends and treated us wonderfully as the years went by, but even at the age of 10 I sensed some initial uneasiness on their part.
Early on, on one of the walks around the property, before the deal was done, the farmer pulled out a root for us to taste. My brother tasted it, spat it out, and yelled, “Yuck!” (Curiosity test failed.) Forewarned, I tasted it, ready to be very cool, but the unimaginably bitter taste made me, too, spit it out and yell, “Yuck!” (Curiosity test failed.) My mother, who at the end of WWII was living largely on berries, mushrooms and other things they could find in the woods, tasted it, chewed it, did actually swallow it, although I wouldn’t consider this essential, and said with great calm, “Yes, we ate something like this during the war.” (A+ on the curiosity test.)
If you’re not sure what this has to do with curiosity, you might like to take a look at Day 003.
I may be experiencing a plateau, but it seems that I can almost always at least call on desire-to-learn curiosity. I was at a presentation yesterday evening with an opinionated, sometimes crude speaker who was talking about something I already know a fair amount about. And I was able to focus on the one model he presented I wasn’t familiar with. In fact, I think I’ll go Google that right now. Down the rabbit hole!