I’m traveling with my dog and, as usual, am finding him an excellent example of curiosity. Because we are in new places he is particularly interested in sniffing around, and I keep finding him sniffing special places with great concentration and dedication. Perhaps I should start imitating him again?
A friend just related a story to me about her recent trip to London. Her neighbor on the plane had voted for Brexit. My friend, had she been eligible to vote, would not have done that. But she consiously reminded herself to stay open and heard–as is so often the case when one stays curious–something unexpected and new. Her fellow passenger had voted for Brexit because he felt Romanians and Poles, for example, were being exploited by employers in Britain, and he felt it was better if they went home.
Now, there are many points one could dispute in his reasoning, but isn’t it interesting that he felt that way?
Andrew Wiles is the Cambridge mathematician who gained international recognition for solving Fermat’s Last Theorem, a proof that took him seven years but which, until he solved it, had remained unsolved for 356. Years ago I saw an interview with him, which I sadly have never found again, in which he described what it was like to see the light after devoting every free moment to the proof for those seven years. He started to cry and then, being a very proper English academic, apologized for crying.
Here is what he said about doing mathematics at a high level: “What you have to handle is … accepting the state of being stuck … it’s part of the process, and you have to accept, you have to learn to enjoy that process. Yes, you don’t understand, but you have faith that you will understand and that you have to go through this. It’s like anything. It’s like training in sport. You want to run fast, you have to train.”
That willingness to stay with something even when you are stuck takes an awful lot of curiosity, if you ask me!
That quotation is from a presentation he made at the Heidelberg Laureate Forum: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KaVytLupxmo&feature=youtu.be
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 have found it, the exercise (actually a poem) that traces an everyday thing back to its roots in order to give gratitude for each element. It is from that wonderful site I have mentioned several times already–gratefulness.org: http://gratefulness.org/resource/i-awaken-before-dawn/
Seemed like a good post for a Sunday …
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 ;-)).
I’ve mentioned before that my dog is an excellent example of curiosity lived. We are no longer in the country where he can plunge into every bush, but here in the city he examines every shop doorway with great curiosity. I understand when it is a shop we go to regularly, like the newsagent’s (where he also gets treats), but in the meantime it is almost every shop. An example to us all … 😉