Why are we so curious?

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Evolution made us the ultimate learning machines, and the ultimate learning machines need to be oiled by curiosity. 


I hate to disappoint you, but whatever your ambitions, whatever your long-term goals, I’m pretty sure that reading this column isn’t going to further them. It won’t stop you feeling hungry. It won’t provide any information that might save your life. It’s unlikely to make you attractive to the opposite sex. 

And yet if I were to say that I will teach you a valuable lesson about your inner child, I hope you will want to carry on reading, driven by nothing more than your curiosity to find out a little more. What could be going on in your brain to make you so inquisitive?

We humans have a deeply curious nature, and more often than not it is about the minor tittle-tattle in our lives. Our curiosity has us doing utterly unproductive things like reading news about people we will never meet, learning topics we will never have use for, or exploring places we will never come back to. We just love to know the answers to things, even if there’s no obvious benefit.

From the perspective of evolution this appears to be something of a mystery. We associate evolution with ‘survival-of-the-fittest’ traits that support the essentials of day-to-day survival and reproduction. So why did we evolve to waste so much time? Shouldn’t evolution have selected for a species which was – you know – a bit more focussed?

Written By: Tom Stafford
continue to source article at bbc.com

13 COMMENTS

  1. The link is not working – maybe its the BBC?

    However the whole idea of curiosity is one I think less remarkable than most. In my view almost every curious brain is corrupted with significant “viral feeding” reserved, preserved and manufactured to satiate and control all curiosity to an extent it preserves more confusion than collaboration. The poison is rife and its poppy fields booming. 

    It’s why I find the human brain per se the most unremarkable form of life that exists. It’s a seed, by the billion, ripened into cesspits of credulity primed for self feeding its own clones!

    I see no alternative to this. Power, historic and reinforced, has “corrupted beyond redemption” all curiosities of equitable merit and chants this as some pseudo mantra placebo to all the ills it repeatedly “breeds in” so as to delude its population “brain banks” such realities cannot possibly be “life’s purpose”. 

    The OP needs rephrasing, “Why are we all such Poppy Heads?”

    Hardly a seed that falls is worth the sowing. 

  2.  Maybe it’s just me, but I never know what the deuce Premiseless is on about. His postings read like something from one of those joke post-modern article generators.

    As for the question “Why are we so curious?”, the sad answer is that huge numbers of us aren’t.

    As someone once said, the true illiteracy is lack of curiosity.

    The strictly religious are not curious, because they believe they already have a simple anser to everything. Indeed churches only too often actively stifle curiosity. Being curious and seeking answers surely involve the use of one’s reason. St Augustine referred to the “disease” of curiosity.

    Vast numbers of the non-religious take the position “If it doesn’t make money for me or entertain me, I’m not interested in it.”

  3. This journalist’s reference to evolution would have killed off the curiosity of a very large chunk of the world’s population – assuming that they are at all capable of being curious.

  4.   We humans have a deeply curious nature, and more often than not it is
    about the minor tittle-tattle in our lives. Our curiosity has us doing
    utterly unproductive things like reading news about people we will never
    meet, learning topics we will never have use for, or exploring places
    we will never come back to. We just love to know the answers to things,
    even if there’s no obvious benefit.

    This description fits the sociopaths, free-loaders and gossips of wealthy cities.  If we look at indigenous people or other mammals the role of curiosity in evolution becomes more obvious.

    If I make some change in a room or in the garden,  the first thing the cat will do after this,  is check out the new feature to up-date its mental map of its territory. This has to do with hunting, seeking comfortable resting places, and escape routes.

    The roots of our peculiar curiosity can be linked to a trait of the
    human species call neoteny. This is a term from evolutionary theory that
    means the “retention of juvenile characteristics”. It means that as a
    species we are more child-like than other mammals. Being relatively
    hairless is one physical example. A large brain relative to body size is
    another. Our lifelong curiosity and playfulness is a behavioural
    characteristic of neoteny.

    The sustained ability into adulthood, to continue to learn is a feature of intelligent humans.  It is a feature which psychology shows, is lost fastest by those in whom it was poorly developed in the first place.  The mentally weak often have very limited fixed ideas quite early in life.

  5. >It means we are more childlike than other mammals. Being relatively hairless is one example.<

    Is that really a good example? Other baby apes look more human than the adults do, because they are born with relatively flat faces. Our remaining pan faced is a good example of neoteny. But other apes are born furry, so how is our relative lack an example? 

  6. How ironic that a BBC licence payer can’t access the BBC because it’s ‘a wholly owned subsidiary’. The quality of this article says I’m not missing much. Oh well, Richard II was worth the licence fee. It’s Henry IV Part 1 on Saturday. Get the hankies out. Patrick Stewart already made me cry in Richard II.

    Why are we so curious? I couldn’t read the whole article, but why do article titles start with an assumption and the word, ‘Why’?

  7. Certainly in computer programming if you ever see anything you don’t expect, and sweep it under the rug rather than being seized with a burning desire for an explanation, you will be creating a very nasty surprise for yourself later.

  8. Curiosity is an intriguing feature of the human mind, though very exploitative of everything in whatever ways it can seduce support. We swap the technology founded consumerism for rainforest and much of the natural worlds beauty, plus materials that are tomorrows landfill for natures longer term sustainable species. Short term fixes for sustainable ecosystems! Our curiosity is most certainly one of humanities most seductively sustained erections but most obviously our greatest raping of a planet once filled with a wealth of evolutionary majesty. I’m frequently challenged as to how I can justify respecting this equation with any real sense of equitability for all the lives, and life, lost due this wastefulness. I see why people love it so much, it surely has accomplished amazing advances, but I also have a sense beyond anything we represent and of all the short term exploitative gains the news is constantly filled with at the immense expense to others and it leaves in me a sense that something is not good about this. I have a sense that the human mind is corrupted into perpetual denial by forever applauding the trophies of its own exploitations. A winners life and a losers dismissal seems the only game in town.

    Each to their own.     

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