Curiouser and curiouser

The world would be unrecognizable without curiosity

Why curiosity killed an animal supposedly blessed with nine lives, I don’t know. I’d hate to think of a life without curiosity, although the prevalent comment, “bor-ing!” could lead one to believe that the days of curiosity itself are numbered.

What if Newton hadn’t pondered the apple falling from the tree? What if Einstein hadn’t probed his mind until it produced E=mc2? What if Louis Pasteur had never connected disease with antibodies?

Man’s mind was designed to evolve with a passion for finding out. Without that natural bent, the world today would be unrecognizable as we know it. Of course it could be argued many modern “miracles” would have been best left in Pandora’s box.

If you’re an inveterate reader, I’d bet you’ve experienced those times, tired and comfy as you are, when you drag yourself from bed to the dictionary or encyclopedia (or that other offspring of curiosity, the Internet) to satisfy a nagging “what” or “why” in your current reading. Curiosity will get you every time.

I remember some days as a child when I apparently drove the grown-ups crazy with my constant demands to know why. One long ago summer, my sister, her husband, my father and I were driving along the St. Lawrence toward Montreal. For some forgotten reason we had stopped and were looking around in this cavernous old building. As we walked into a huge ex-industrial space, there in foot-tall letters across the rear wall was sloppily painted “WHY?” My adult sister could only wail, “Nancy’s been here!”

I guess the same penchant for ‘why’ led me to tuck an old book under my arm in a Nanaimo used bookstore. “A Book about a Thousand Things” by George Stimpson was the perfect potpourri of whats and whys. Questions like: “Why was paper money called shinplasters? The original shinplaster, a curative plaster made of brown paper covered with tar and vinegar, applied to a sore shin, was apparently a nickname for the worthless paper currency,” and, “Does thunder cause milk to turn sour?” and so on.

Author Stimpson, a reporter and editor, was very fond of his innate curiosity. “Efforts to satisfy my curiosity have kept me from being lonesome, and I have had little time to become bored” he explains in his preface.

What is it that arouses curiosity? Usually it’s something observed or heard that leaves us puzzled and wondering. Sometimes it’s a tidbit that whets our appetite to know more. That’s how newspapers work. In big fat letters they tell us something of import. How many times have you then squatted down to newspaper dispenser level, or picked up and turned over the paper from the rack to satisfy your curiosity? If you have to know still more you’ll even hand over the cash to buy it.

And if there’s a good long line at the check-out counter, don’t those titillating headlines get you leafing through the Enquirer till the cashier starts scanning your groceries, and guiltily, with no little embarrassment, you stuff it back in the rack? We don’t really read that stuff, of course, but some blurbs are irresistible.

It may well be that for cats, curiosity is a dangerous thing, but better writers than I hold the yen to know dear to their hearts. Said Samuel Johnson, “Curiosity is one of the permanent and certain characteristics of a vigorous mind.” In her autobiography, Eleanor Roosevelt stated, “Life was meant to be lived, and curiosity must be kept alive. One must never, for whatever reason, turn his back on life.” These reasons alone should keep our curiosity at high heat.

Right now, I’m curious about why the “y” key on my keyboard keeps sticking!


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