The Case for Curiosity. And why it didn’t kill the cat. | by Vanshika Randev | Sep, 2021

Vanshika Randev
Source: Justin Peterson via Unsplash

They lied. Curiosity never killed the cat. It’s just another misused idiom-proverb to stop some restless teenager from pursuing their latest quest for knowledge (the contents of the banned book) or experiences (touching the boiling hot plate a waiter just cautioned you against).

It lends another classic, age-old example to a growing list of indiscretions — of picking sentences out of context and rendering the original meaning wholly useless (also read: ‘great minds think alike,’ while overlooking the traditional response, ‘but fools seldom differ.’). In fact, in this case, the phrase couldn’t be further from the original:

Curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought it back.

With curiosity, the mythical ‘end goal’ is not the answer — really, the aim is a sustained curious outlook towards things. The end goal is the act of knowledge-seeking in itself, not stopping at a single answer. Curiosity doesn’t leave you satiated. It leaves you wanting more: opening a door to creativity and possibilities. Which, I think, is the point.

And while we may believe this is an inherent outlook towards life — there are many ways in which we can cultivate curiosity.

Broadly defining these into three categories, we can: one, browse/consume content (content, here, encompasses a wide ranging set of materials, from the broad spectrum of knowledge to read, preach or seek, listening to the words of a 5-year-old or a hardened expert, to articles and art, undiscovered sheets of music, recipes not yet tried and books to be read), two, create content (ask and attempt to answer questions you want to know, discover your own hacks and how-tos, think of the what ifs), and three, take a walk (or any other exploratory equivalent — look around, ask questions, go to places that spark your curiosity: museums and libraries and bookstores and parks, or even cafes and workshops).

Follow the questions. Map out a journey solely dedicated to ticking off various street foods as you travel cross-country, ask Whys and Hows, even about the most mundane of things. These can alter your perspectives of even everyday objects, and offer you views on things you didn’t previously know.

A podcast I heard (A Vox Conversations episode with engineer-author-cartoonist Randall Munroe) was an especially interesting take on curiosity, discussing Munroe’s work, from his web-comic XKCD to his book, ‘How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems.’ The book explores the most complicated ways to do the simplest of tasks, driven as if solely by curiosity (and the author’s love for understanding science and math).

Munroe’s book encompasses formulas and theories dictated by child-like curiosity and wonder, with a sense of absurdity that is evidently intentional. The book talks you through solutions, from ‘how to dig a hole’ to the steps to crossing a river by boiling it. It is fun, ridiculous, and a wonderful example of the complexity and creative potential of answers to mundane questions. It is an anti-self help guide: the purpose is the challenge and the irrationality and the ambitiousness of the ‘solutions.’

How many unthinkable adventures or discoveries or ‘answers’ lie in wait for us, beyond the realm of what we already know? Learn to live your full, wild, spirited lives.

Feed your curiosity. The right proverbs will follow.

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