Adults DO have time for endless questioning. The Golden Rule of childhood. The Golden Rule of adulthood. And why rediscovery is possible.
Curiosity doesn’t dry up in adults for no good reason. Responsibility is necessary. Nothing would get done if the Why Question was continuously asked. Adults have work to do, nappies to change, school runs, meetings to attend, todo lists to complete. Adults don’t have time to question all the time. Plus it’s potentially dangerous: five minutes of “why?”‘s might reveal a bug in the loop, thereby invoking some kind of existential crisis, itself something for which there is no time. And adult who asks why might also be considered ‘not very nice’, or a ‘difficult person’. But it doesn’t have to be like this. Putting aside the Who Cares What People Think? argument, there’s more to curiosity than explicit questioning. The proof is the way in which children navigate the world.
Despite the obvious connection and common notion, kids don’t really go around asking questions. Why would they? They just get on with living. They answer the question of what to do next with their gut, and they go until they’re bored. Activities are dropped when they’re no longer interesting — onto the next. That’s the golden rule; and it’s the one which adulthood ruthlessly abolishes and replaces with an endless amount of golden rules that seem to benefit everyone but the individual abiding them. One such rule is to not dabble in abiding the golden rule of childhood. In other words, when you’re an adult it’s hard to just drop something when it becomes boring. But an explanation of curiosity this is not; there’s far going on.
It’s a misconception that kids go around asking other humans questions endlessly. They do, and some, in that stereotypically annoying way, but it’s rare. In actuality, kids constantly question their environment, their own emotions and themselves. And they do this mostly through action. They’re in a constant dialogue with their worlds about how well they’re doing X and how much enjoyment it’s providing; and not just X but all letters of the alphabet, and sometimes all within the space of an hour. It’s also a dialogue not just with the external world: each person is a world unto their own. There is a world inside my head and a world outside my head. Humans are always in dialogue with both whilst also existing in both. We spend our lives trying to bring ideas from one to the other, resolving conflicts between the two, and sometimes wondering if there are worlds other than inner worlds of other people.1
That children, with their underdeveloped brains, inexperience, and utter ignorance, would be able to introspect about anything seems like a silly thing to say to most rational, logical, sensible adults.2 But this says more about them than the kids. A child is able to segue between tasks so effortlessly because they are so in tune with their own rhythm. It might seem hard to believe, but introspection isn’t just about critical thinking, rationality, calculation, logic, pros and cons, or anything else that one might associate with intellectuals or philosophers. In fact introspection mostly isn’t about them; they’re just ways of approaching it. There is something deeper. There’s another language below human language which kids speak fluently, and in which many adults have lost fluency because they’ve forgotten it existed.
So children do in fact go around endlessly questioning; it’s just not other people they’re requesting answers from. It’s worlds. And it’s not questions in a form that lends well to pen and paper. It’s a mode of operation for which the primary — the only? — heuristic is Finding Things Out. Coming back to the question of whether adults can be as curious as children, the pessimism fades once we understand better what curiosity actually is and how kids actually embody it, not how we think they do. It isn’t in the form of why, how and what; it’s a modus operandi.
Spoken questions form only a small part of the picture. Curiosity is about living with a sense of wonder and awe at everything from the seeable stars in the galaxy to the inside of a rose and everything in-between. Curiosity is about rabbit-holes, obsession, creative engagement with problems, fun. Curiosity has no boundaries, cannot be manufactured, and is the reason the humanity story is the greatest story ever told. Curiosity doesn’t lend well to intellectualism, rules, predetermined actions, order, methodology or transmission; it’s about self-directed discovery, ordering of chaos, emotion, rule-breaking, creativity.
Adults can be as curious as children. In fact, adults have the potential to more aggressively pursue their curiosity than children. Children are bound by their environment, rules of their education institution, ignorance and lack of experience3, access to funds, bedtime rituals, and so on. Adults typically have more responsibility and their questions are likely to be far more complex than children, meaning more creativity and resourced will be required to work out how to investigate curiosities in a given domain. But it puts to bed the idea that adults can’t be as curious as kids because of duty, some biological mechanism, or whatever else.
You may have lost your sense of curiosity at some point. The good news is that it it can be rediscovered — itself an act of a curious person. It can be rediscovered because there are no conditions it has to satisfy other than that it’s satisfaction leads to new discoveries, which may or may not be related to the initial curiosity. For example, my general questions about the history of the Dark Ages may lead me to Charles the Great, which leads me to the story of his father Pepin the Short, which culminates three months later in a trip to the Basilica of Saint-Denis in Paris. This chain of events can’t be predicted, blueprinted, or explained. Nor can it be repeated: the curiosity, which was my curiosity, was at each stage satisfied further and further, and now I’m no longer interested in that. The point is the curiosity and that it drove decisions; the magic can’t be seen through external observation of each step.
Curiosity can be rediscovered because the details of its manifestation are completely unique to the person. That it has to be and look a certain way is a falsehood that keeps curiosity under lock and lost key. Realising this, and you’ve found the key. Now unlock.
- Heaven and Hell are two such worlds.
- The ignorance paradox: the less ignorant you become, the more aware you become of how ignorant you are. There are several colourful quotes that speak of this truth, one of my favourites being from Neil DeGrasse Tyson: ‘As the area of our knowledge grows, so too does the perimeter of our ignorance’.