Curiosity is a trait the brings us closer to the world. When we wonder, we invent new connections in our brain, connections that give meaning to our inner lives. It is Albert Einstein who, in Life magazine, wrote that “The important thing is not to stop questioning; curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when contemplating the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of the mystery every day. The important thing is not to stop questioning; never lose a holy curiosity.” And yet, despite the importance of curiosity, many ply their everyday routines with little to no impetus to explore. Some of these people are merely comfortable as human trains rolling along their tracks, while others haven’t the know-how to veer off the common road.
As a librarian, one of my goals is to encourage people to engage in curiosity. It’s also a topic of personal interest — I like to be surrounded by people who exist in a world that’s incomplete. That being the case, I’ve put a bit of thought into how to encourage curiosity in others. To that end, here are some ways to get going:
I’m not going prescribe the exact book, magazine, blog, or newspapers that you should read, but I will say that reading is one of the greatest ways to fire up the mind. Not everything is equally effective at it, in my opinion. Throw-away reads like simple novels, click-bait blog posts, and other “junk food” are unlikely to be anything but momentarily entertaining. Instead, read well-reviewed non-fiction and enduring novels. Those are the kind of works you’ll think about after you’re done. If you’re feeling bored, go to Amazon and buy a cheap paperback of something with which you’re sure to disagree. Argue with the author as you read it. Throw it across the room if you have to. Reading can change us, and that’s good. The very existence of curiosity, when it’s not purely utilitarian (like if you’re curious about your bank’s routing number), is predicated on the belief that the next thing you read can rock your world. Read good stuff and someday, you’ll come across a book that will!
Ask insightful questions, or listen to others do it
I listen to a few excellent interview podcasts in between audiobooks, and the quality which spotlights them is that the interviewers ask probing, well-phrased, and intelligent questions. They take on the role of, as Peter Limberg of the Intellectual Explorers podcast calls it, performative agnostics. That means, in part, that they temporarily suspend a portion of their personal judgement in order to free themselves to ask questions about ideas they aren’t certain about or with which they disagree. Curiosity begins with questions and the best ones are challenging and open-ended.
It takes courage to ask tough questions, but it is slightly easier if you ask them to yourself. Why not? This is your journey.
Curiosity begins with questions and the best ones are challenging and open-ended.
Go somewhere new
It’s a common piece of wisdom that travel and authentic interaction with an unfamiliar place influences how people view the world. I would say that travel to another country is not always necessary for that to happen — a new perspective could be as easy as walking in a place where you usually drive or going to a park or garden you’ve never been. Most major cities are full of interesting places that even long-time residents haven’t visited. So be a tourist in your own town; explore its history, sights, and sounds. Learning new things is a plus for cognition so you can be sure that when you go somewhere new, your brain will thank you!
On the surface, meditation is a quiet way to relax, but depending on the modality you use, it could also be a deep self-reflective practice. In Insight Meditation, for example, part of the method is to figuratively sit back and observe your thoughts. Busy people spend most of the day corralling our minds towards endless tasks so this type of release can be especially liberating.
While curiosity is often seen as purely focused on the world outside of oneself, meditation is a way to turn curiosity inward. But that’s only one positive quality of meditation, there are numerous other ways in which meditation is a prime, generative, activity.
Look & listen
This is the simplest and most complex suggestion in this article. To focus on your senses doing their work — close your eyes and listen to the birds, sit at a coffee shop and watch people walk by on the street, take a ride on the bus for its own sake. Go sit in a library without a set task and just experience your surroundings. It seems like a counter-intuitive way to generate curiosity, except that it isn’t. To go to a place with nothing but curiosity about what you’ll encounter? That’s it, entirely.