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Hoping for nine lives...

Stanley Fish of the New York Times riled everyone up again with a discussion of why curiosity is not necessarily a good thing. (Query: is Fish turning into a subtle, intellectual-baiting troll? Come to think of it, that could be a fun thing to do with my old age ;-)

Fish is correct in saying that people should not put knowledge ahead of more important things, but only partly so.

This was my comment:

I don’t know about anyone else, but in my case, being curious is overdetermined.

I am curious because I am delighted by the universe, and when you love a thing you want to know more about it

I am curious because I am outraged or saddened, and want to know if there’s anything I can do to solve a problem.

I am curious because I deeply love God, and I therefore want to understand his works as clearly as possible. There is no truth I am not willing to accept - not evolution, not the big bang, not God complexes in the temporal lobe - because the better I understand God’s playing field, the better I can do within the parameters of the game. There is a ground of being, knowing and loving me into existence. In my small way, I like to return the favor.

During the decade or so I was an atheist, I was curious for all the other reasons in this letter.

Psychologically, I am probably curious because knowledge gives me an illusory sense of control over my world.

I am curious because as a child my education was deliberately stifled (my parents seemed to think much learning would make their genius child mad), and I am making up for lost academic opportunities.

I am curious because of my mortality, and the mortality of everything else. When I know a thing, a piece of it lives on in me, and is passed on to others by affecting what I do and say.


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 16th, 2009 05:30 am (UTC)
You know, I think you've hit the nail on the head when you say subtle intellectual-baiting troll.

Maybe it's that I'm sleepy, but I just didn't get his argument at first, and even now that I think that i do, it still seems way off base. The bad characteristics that he subsumes under the label curiosity seem better labeled other things: sadism, for instance, or boredom, or destructiveness, or willfulness, or laziness. Those things might kill us, sure. But the fact that sometimes curious people demonstrate these other characteristics doesn't, to me, warrant dismissing curiosity.

It also strikes me as a flawed argument to equate curiosity with the negative consequences of curiosity. Curiosity may have brought us the atomic bomb, but it also brought us radiation therapy. Okay, radiation therapy's not super pleasant, but it can be a life saver sometimes. And where exactly would Fish and others have us draw the line between appropriate and inappropriate curiosity? Who gets to draw that line, and what are the criteria? Who gets to be that gatekeeper, hmmm?

Fish quotes Augustine, who says that the pursuit of knowledge can become a false God. Yes, but anything can become a false God, including persnickety following of God's own rules. And pursuit of knowledge can also lead to a greater appreciation of God. Sitting in blind ignorance doesn't seem like the best way of honoring the maker of all creation.

Furthermore, even if we were to grant that curiosity kills us, the fact remains that being INcurious most certainly also kill us. Indeed, death is inevitable, so I end up shrugging my shoulders.

Sep. 16th, 2009 05:43 am (UTC)
I love it! Nicely reasoned :-)
Sep. 16th, 2009 10:24 pm (UTC)
Didn't read the article yet, though I surely will, but I love your bit at the bottom, esp. about being delighted by the universe, and being curious as a way of loving God, because I feel those ways, too.

Actually, the other day you randomly popped into my head and I thought, I am happy to know this person, even if just through the internet.
Sep. 16th, 2009 10:33 pm (UTC)
Likewise :-) You, and asakiyume, and several others have turned into hope-inspiring bits of light in my world.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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