just curious to know more about....
Curiosity and the Cat: The Real Story
This hub begins as a response to an incomplete question; "Just curious to know more about..." ...About what? Now I'm curious. As a teacher, curiosity is an important issue--a problem, even. Why do students often lose their curiosity about life as they pass through Public School, and then regain it as they enter adulthood?
The word "curious" instantly brings to mind the phrase "Curiosity killed the cat." What an absurd thought! In nature, virtually every trait that a species posesses is important to its survival. Cats have tails for balance when climbing, claws for hunting and defense, and curious natures for ...? If an animal has a trait that is bad for it, it will be more likely to die before it can breed and pass on that trait. If "curiosity" really killed cats, after only a few generations, most cats wouldn't be curious anymore. (I can't personally imagine an incurious cat, although I did once own a Siamese whose response to a mouse was to gaze at me with an expression that said, "Hey, would you catch that for me, please?")
Jared DIamond, writer of "Guns, Germs, and Steel" observed that the friends he made among the primitive villages of Papua New Guinea were the most curious people he had ever met, and some of the most intelligent. He speculated that, for people living in a primitive environment, curiosity was a stronger survival trait than any other. What is the difference between this mushroom, which is edible, and that, which is poisonous? How many things can I do with this 2-liter plastic bottle that washed up on the beach? What's that sparkly thing on your wrist for? He went so far as to wonder if those tribal people weren't in fact much smarter on average than Europeans, whose main survival trait through the Dark Ages was the ability to survive the ravages of various plagues. In other words, we Westerners have more need for a good immune system than for a sharp mind. (This explains the behavior of the attendant at the local gas station perfectly.)
Humans and cats are very curious creatures for the same reason: noticing any change in the environment is the best way to avoid danger, or to take advantage of a new resource. " Did you see the way that log is moving against the current? That's odd ... ah! It's not a log after all, it's a crocodile." Curiosity satisfied, and one more danger avoided. In days past, a sudden silencing of a bird's song would have caused you or I to stop and look very carefully around us, in search of whatever it was that disturbed the bird--perhaps a large predator, or another human. In today's world, no one in a busy city pays attention to the sounds of birds, but screeching tires turn everyones' heads! We notice what is important for survival, and we're curious about the things that are most likely to keep us safe or bring us greater resources.
The first luckless cat observed by a human being to be killed by its own nature was an exception to the general rule--perhaps it was caught in a bit of un-natural farm machinery, something its evolutionary history did not prepare it for. Humans aren't immune to the dangers of curiosity, either. Babies get burned reaching for the pretty blue fire of the gas stove-top, and of course we're all familiar with the typical scene early on in a horror movie where the bit-character says, "What's that noise?" and goes off to investigate, never to return (or perhaps to return in disassembled pieces).
While I've been writing this article, my cat has been watching with great diligence the antics of my pet snake as it tries to find a way out of its cage. It makes sense; if the snake can find a way out, then my cat will have a tasty treat--or at the least, she'll know how to get in. Also while I've been writing, the person who posted the vague "question" that I'm "answering" has likely moved on to other hubs, other Internet sites, or perhaps has gone off to another activity entirely. I don't know what motivated her to post that incomplete question, but I do know what makes me want to write an answer: I'm curious to know if anyone will bother to read this.
It also comes back to that basic question for me of why people tend to lose their curiosity during their Public School years and then regain it as they become adults. Now we have an answer that's a perfect fit; very little in the public schools has a visible connection to survival, or rather, to the "REAL world." The snake is food for my cat, if she can just get past that damned mesh; a rubber snake in that same cage would stir no interest at all. Students in public schools are essentially forced to look at "rubber snakes" in cages for 6 hours a day. "Here is history, stripped of all meaning; now memorize it, but I'll not tell you why. Go do your Algebra homework, then go home and do not one single thing that appears to involve "x" or "y" in any way.
A certain amount of disconnection is inevitable--it takes experience in the adult world before one can begin to actually use Algebra, and some people never use it once out of High School. History? Everyone following the Stock Market of 2008-2009 is wondering if we're going to see a repeat of the Great Depression, and the fact is that 13 year-olds just don't own stocks. However, the Internet is swiftly changing the way we learn, as we have instant access to information for virtually every point of curiosity--one day soon I hope to see this become a tool to help change the loss of curiosity in our youth, repatterning their brains to make them more open to information than ever before.
As one final thought, I find myself wondering ... why on earth do people use this phrase, "Curiosity killed the cat"? Generally it's used to shut someone up; we're essentially saying that they should watch out, don't be too curious. Is that really a good idea, when it's curiosity that's kept us alive through the millennia? Perhaps, perhaps not, but ....
...Hey, did you hear that? What was that noise? And has anyone seen the woman who asked the "curiosity" question? I think she took off to the kitchen for a snack, but that's been almost an hour ago. She should be back by now. I'd better go check it out ... wait, I think there's something strange in there ....
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