What Is Curiosity?

Philosophy begins in wonder.

- Socrates, as quoted in Plato's Theaetutus, 155D

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Socrates reckoned that philosophy began with wonder. It seems a pretty good place to start; but what of the actual state of wonder—what is it, and how does it relate to awe, humility and curiosity? It seems that astronauts can help with the bigger picture and their star logs from celestial journeys might impart some clues. A team of researchers led by a philosopher has closely analysed the felt experience of being in space through the lens of phenomenology.

Listen to The Philosopher's Zone episode on Awe and Wonder

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Must one be endowed with curiosity in order to become a philosopher?

Today, in the academic realm, at least, the answer is surely and regrettably “no.” When a newly minted philosopher goes on the job market, her primary task is to show her prospective colleagues how perfectly focused she has been in graduate school, and to conceal her knowledge of any topic (Shakespeare’s sonnets, classical Chinese astronomy, the history of pigeon breeding) that does not fall within the current boundaries of the discipline.

But how were these boundaries formed in the first place? Did they spring from the very essence of philosophy, a set of core attributes present at inception, forever fixed and eternal? The answer to that latter question, is also “no.” What appears to us today to be a core is only what is left over after a centuries-long process by which the virtue of curiosity — once nearly synonymous with philosophy — migrated into other disciplines, both scientific and humanistic...

Continue reading Justin E.H. Smith's article: The Flight of Curiosity

Further Reading

Curiosity can be seen as an innate quality of many different species. It is common to human beings at all ages from infancy through adulthood, and is easy to observe in many other animal species; these include apes, cats, and rodents. Early definitions cite curiosity as a motivated desire for information. This motivational desire has been said to stem from a passion or an appetite for knowledge, information, and understanding.

These traditional ideas of curiosity have recently expanded to look at the difference between curiosity as the innate exploratory behavior that is present in all animals and curiosity as the desire for knowledge that is specifically attributed to humans...

Continue reading the Wikipedia article on Curiosity

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Related Topics

 IgnoranceIntelligence | The Value of Knowledge

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