Curiosity in Learning

Mutiny on the Bounty painting by Robert Dodd, 1790: Reference

I’ve been thinking about curiosity in learning lately. In particular, why it is that I can become obsessed with some subject matter and not others?

My latest obsession with maritime history focusing on the Royal Navy between the years 1787–1790.

It’s like I have some crazy desire where I need to learn everything that happened between those years, what ships were connected to what captain; what was happening elsewhere around the world that necessitated the circumstances that transpired for people and ships to be where they were at that point in time.

For me, history is like a big jigsaw puzzle. It sends me down rabbit warrens as I uncover more information (useful for me; useless for others I might add) and it takes over everything in my life for that point in time.

Some years ago, I was in the Royal Australian Navy. I recall that people in the Navy were always sharing stories or “spinning warries” as they called them. These stories ignited my imagination to want to learn more because history came alive.

In the last few months, I have been learning about master mariner, William Bligh. Books, podcasts, movies, artworks, sketches, websites — anything I can get my hands on, I have been on a “Bligh Binge”.

Like some mind map with William Bligh in the middle, the more I explored, the more it took me to different parts of the story to reveal and unfold a time in English history where things were in a state of flux and moving into a period of enlightenment.

Reading the stories and the accounts were like I was watching a part of history unfold at that point in time. I wanted to immerse myself in it and connect with the characters because it felt like they were simply real people going through challenging times. The more I dug, the more I learned and in some strange way, I felt closer to the …why.

Last weekend, I travelled to Sydney and used the opportunity to revisit parts of the city to retrace the steps of the first settlers and Captain Arthur Phillip who was the first Governor of Australia. I never had an interest in Australian History before — let alone at school. In fact, I hated it. It was boring to me because of the way it was taught with dates and rebellions. I’ve been to Sydney many times but it was the first time I appreciated being there because it brought my learning alive.

In a way, I reconnected with it and saw the city with a new perspective. I saw Sydney in the eyes of a child, in constant wonder, curiosity and awe:

“Did Captain Arthur Philip walk down this road? Was this road even here?”

“Did Bennelong sit here and look out into the port or probably look towards the settlement with resentment?”

“As the ships sailed into Port Jackson, what would it have looked like?”

“Is this the site of the first governor’s house?”

“Did Bligh walk right where I’m walking today 209 years ago?”

So what’s this got to do with curiosity in learning?

Whether it’s maritime history, or any other subject — curiosity inspires us to learn more about the “why”.

It invigorates and energises us. It activates our mind and makes us question, consider and reflect on different possibilities. It challenges our assumptions but most of all, it makes us appreciate how small we are — a tiny dot in the grand scheme of world history.

We see things in a completely different angle and with alternative perspectives. It makes us realise that what we know is only one piece of the greater puzzle and in actual fact, we will never truly know the real answers.

Curiosity allows us to be in a state of an open mind; of being willing to consider all options and possibilities.

It allows us to be in the position of not knowing — and to ask that dumb question — and not feel awkward or stupid that we asked it.

While people like Bligh were intrepid explorers and discovered new worlds, in a way, curiosity allows us to be more like them.

At a time when there’s so much change and the unknown ahead of us, curiosity gives us the freedom of discovery and exploration of our modern world.

What fires you up? Interested in your thoughts