What Kind of Curious are You?

Google web search (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

Writing at the Wall Street Journal today, Philip Delves Broughton reviews (subscribers only) Ian Leslie's Curious: The Desire to Know and Why Your Future Depends On It.

Mr. Leslie writes that there are two major categories of curiosity. Diversive curiosity, the attraction to everything novel, is superficial and easily satisfied--little more than a temporary fix for boredom. Epistemic curiosity, a deeper desire to understand a subject from top to bottom, may lead to a lifetime's study and even profound discovery. . . .
 

Epistemic curiosity depends on friction, on uncertainty, on being aware of our own ignorance--the very opposite of the quick-fix omniscience of a Google search. Those who are epistemically curious see life as a mystery to be patiently explored and dimly understood rather than mastered with a how-to list. They invest in acquiring the mental tools with which to tackle difficult problems. They bother to learn foreign languages and hard sciences and are always asking "why" as well as "what" questions. They use technology as a rapier rather than a crutch.

Advertisement

Modern society, notes Delves Broughton, is badly in need of the right kind of curiosity - the epistemic kind:

The sheer abundance of information at our disposal risks turning us into a society of glib know-it-alls, ignorant of our own ignorance. We may not all need to be like the 3-year-old John Stuart Mill pacing across Hampstead Heath with his father reciting ancient Greek, but we do need to know that being able to look up something on our iPhones doesn't make us smart. Mr. Leslie cites a question recently posted on the social-news and discussion site Reddit: "If someone from the 1950s suddenly appeared today, what would be the most difficult thing to explain to them about today?" The most popular answer was this: "I possess a device in my pocket that is capable of accessing the entirety of information known to man. I use it to look at pictures of cats and get into arguments with strangers."
Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
J Cosgrove
3 years 8 months ago
I read this when it first was published and felt Leslie's point of view was supercilious. There are only two forms of curiosity and I guess those that exhibit neither are hoi polloi. I found his position, elitist and counter productive to a meaningful life. I consider myself an information junkie. I have a background in science and have been ABD in a business Ph.D program during my checkered career (left Ph.D program to start a new business) but have always been interested in science of all sorts, economics and in recent years history. But I never learned a foreign language nor spent the time to go to the ultimate of any of these areas, So what does that make someone like me who are many? This distinction that Leslie makes is nonsense.

Advertisement

Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

A woman religious casts her ballot May 25 in Dublin as Ireland holds a referendum on its law on abortion. Voters went to the polls May 25 to decide whether to liberalize the country's abortion laws. (CNS photo/Alex Fraser, Reuters)
The repeal of Ireland's Eighth Amendment, which guarantees the right to life of the unborn, is passing by a 2-1 margin with most of the votes counted.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos testifies at a House Committee on Education and the Workforce, Tuesday, May 22, 2018, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
The Secretary of Education stirred up controversy when she said it was up to schools to decide if an undocumented student should be reported to authorities.
J.D. Long-GarcíaMay 25, 2018
Thousands gathered in Dublin May 12 to say "Love Both" and "Vote No" to abortion on demand. They were protesting abortion on demand in the forthcoming referendum May 25. (CNS photo/John McElroy)
“Priests and bishops get verbal abuse by being told, ‘How can you speak for women? You don’t know what it’s like!’”
America StaffMay 25, 2018
The coffin containing the body of St. John XXIII is seen during a ceremony in Vittorio Veneto Square after its arrival in Bergamo, Italy, May 24. The body of the late pope left the Vatican on May 24 to be displayed in his home region until June 10. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

BERGAMO, Italy (CNS) — Accompanied by Bishop Francesco Beschi of Bergamo and escorted by both Italian and Vatican police officers, the glass coffin containing the body of St. John XXIII left the Vatican early on May 24 for a 370-mile drive to Bergamo.