The Curiosity Taboo

For 25 years of my life I was a research and development technician for a major chemical corporation. I worked for and among some of the smartest humans on the planet. Yet looking back I’m dumbfounded at the basic lack of curiosity exhibited by so many highly trained engineers and PhD chemists with whom I came in contact.

Most approached their jobs with about the same lack of wonderment as any run-of-the-mill bureaucrat or average file clerk. They simply tried to fulfill their mandated job assignments and played whatever office politics they thought would keep them out of trouble or gain them promotion.

I on the other hand, though much devoid of natural cognition, have inexplicably always overflowed with general curiosity. Being only a technician and not a professional scientist, my curiosity I can assure you was seldom encouraged. I was seen by most, but not quite by all I must admit, as merely a robotic pair of hands.

Sometimes unwanted curiosity about wishing to go beyond my job assignment — trying to maximize possibilities — got me into trouble. In a few instances, however, it actually seriously helped make the career and reputation of my professional bosses, even to the point of more or less forcing them to place my name along side of theirs on a US patient, something that did not go over big among certain parts of the company’s rigidly structured hierarchy.

The truth is that humans as a species have repeatedly been warned off of curiosity and knowledge — warned that curiosity killed the cat, and then there is the Bible parable about God telling Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden not to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge least they suffer grave consequences.

Indeed, most folks have an instinctive fear of curiosity beyond the minimum required for a successful life. And as I have so often written, I believe this has something to do with what I have tagged as probability balance. That is to say that for every new scientific breakthrough that curiosity has inspired there has been a corresponding horrendous offset.

Hundreds of years ago curious men dabbled with substances of explosive power. Since the advent of gun power, over the last five or six hundreds of years tens of millions have been killed by bombs and bullets as the negative offset. In the last century curiosity lead to the splitting of the atom, and now humankind faces enough nuclear weapons on hair-trigger capable of terminating its existence in a heartbeat.

Perhaps even scarier for some, though I can’t begin to imagine what could be more scary that a full blown nuclear holocaust, is the on rushing ability of the brilliant among us to create a perfect human life form. Yes, genetic engineering is getting close to the point whereby humanity can replicate itself free of the flaws of body and mind that nature’s haphazard system of random trial and error has as yet fashioned.

Of course our collective terror on this account stems from the very real likelihood that such a new breed of human perfection will make the remainder of us totally obsolete, to the point whereby we become enslaved to the will of our somewhat synthetic superiors. So, sure, for many such a loss of status and freedom is far more terrifying than our current hanging by thread to the possibility of nuclear annihilation.

So upon further review, as they say in sports, perhaps the taboo against curiosity evokes wisdom. Still, personally, I’m willing to suffer the consequences of the negative offsets of probability balance that curiosity can unleashed simply because I can’t resist the temptation to see what’s around the next corner of discovery — to hell, I say, with the curiosity taboo!

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