A Meditation on Curiosity


Here’s a thought that has puzzled me this week: every X with a reward system is a strong motivator waiting to be wielded. In this case, X = curiosity, yet it remains largely unexamined. Why glide around in the world without knowing and learning to understand that which drives your curiosity. Thus, let us analyze this trait in an absolutely meta way.

First of all, when you think it through, you notice a couple of peculiar things about this trait.

  1. Every human is curious, yet there seems to be a curiosity premium. That is the benefit that accrues to those who gain from curiosity compared to a relatively incurious person.

  2. Curiosity presupposes perfect matching of answers to questions. Which means it is almost perfectly crafted for a world of uncertainty and chaos. This is quite observable in your own life. When curiosity springs forth, it is specific. In most cases, it is an itch to scratch experientially or an answer to a question intellectually.

  3. Curiosity (broadly defined) is quite risky. It is proportional to the level of risk you are willing to take to satisfy it. The risk comes down to this: you risk finding out something that permanently changes you.

  4. Attention through curiosity has become one of the world’s most valuable commodities. Your curiosity made you click on that next YouTube video even when you said the one before that was the last. Entire industries like advertising center around piquing new curiosities and redirecting existing ones. Carr writes:

Back in the 70s, it was reported that the average person saw between 500 to 1600 ads per day...A few decades later, and advertising had exploded into everyday life. In 2007, the market research firm Yankelovich estimated that the average person saw up to 5,000 ads per day...Fast forward to 2021, and although there are no official figures, the average person is now estimated to encounter between 6,000 to 10,000 ads every single day...

As you are probably coming to realize, curiosity is too critical to remain unexamined, precisely because it makes a person. It is also what will continue to shape that person. In most cases, curiosity is aspirational. But is chaos when unbounded and destruction when poorly channeled. On aggregate, one might intuit that something must have happened to the level of curiosity more broadly. I find that it has just been outsourced. If we pay attention to our proclivities and how curiosity manifests itself, we will get clued in to how it functions and, hopefully, how to properly wield it. This is your homework.

Because of how deeply ingrained it is in the human psyche, here are a handful of rules in wielding this tool. One, to be curious, first survive. Meaning, your curiosity will persist if it is reinforced by the surroundings. As a result, your curiosity today depends on the satiation of your present curiosity and the expected satiety from future curiosities.

Two, with increasing levels of curiosity comes volatility unless one can remain a relatively stable amount of curiosity over time with minor increases as they go. This means one should sacrifice one’s curiosity to a cause worth pursuing.

Overall, is this a call to “claim your curiosity from those that seek to monopolize it?” It may be so but, it actually is not the goal of this post. It is curiosity that drives the author of this post to continue writing and learning. It is actually a philosophical endeavor based on this claim: to wield a tool, you first need to know how it works.


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