How Curiosity Makes Our Universe Expand
“When you’re curious, fun has a way of just showing up!” Curious George by H.E.Rey
Curiosity makes us smarter and is also a quality that is essential for adding joy and wonder to our lives. Ideally we keep nurturing this curiosity into adulthood, a time when we tend to become less open and malleable. This need to stay curious was recently made clear during a friend’s recent “Celebration of Life”– a man who embodied this characteristic.
Jim’s service was held at an idyllic property on the Morrison Creek Headwaters during an unseasonably hot spring day. We sat under a large white tent in rows of chairs next to a sparkling pond. Yellow flashes of warblers darted about, hummingbirds buzzed, and you could hear a raven with a persistent “caw” in the distance. There was a stable nearby where a mare had had a difficult birth the night before. Spring fever was on!
As we sat and listened to family members and friends talk about Jim, a common underlying theme of curiosity emerged. In her speech, his eldest daughter mentioned deciding to nurture this quality in herself as a way of honouring him (though I think his two daughters naturally inherited this trait). A friend remarked that if Jim met someone from a different culture (he had also driven an old bus from B.C. To Panama) he asked them an annoying number of questions, wanting to learn as much as he could. We heard many more stories that afternoon, such as when he and his wife built a float house in a bay on Cortes (you don’t have to buy land that way) and cut a hole in the floor, sealing it with plexiglass so his crawling toddler could see the ocean life below. Jim’s curiosity had led him to many interesting and far out places and to inventing things (often involving a vacuum – including when he fired candy into the street with a shop vac at Halloween during COVID). He inspired others to see the world around them in new ways.
Despite curiosity being a trait common to all of us humans, I think for various reasons it may fade as we become adults. As we sort out our understanding of the world, we too easily become attached and identified with our views and changing them can be a blow to the ego. Also curiosity, a quality we associate with childhood, may lead us somewhere that challenges the status quo. Famously the scientist Galileo, who was a very curious man, was tried by the Roman Inquisition for his studies that revealed the earth actually revolved around the sun, upending the views of the Catholic Church that the universe revolved around earth. He spent the rest of his life under house arrest. Not everyone appreciates curiosity.
I think curiosity is the opposite of judgement. It is believing through open mindedness, acceptance and even courage, that our views are malleable; that we don’t already have all the answers.
Even the late physicist Stephen Hawking, arguably the smartest guy who ever lived, near the end of his life, changed his mind about his understanding of the universe as written in his famous book “A Brief History of Time”. He wasn’t scared to admit he was wrong, maybe a hallmark of true curiosity. A CBC interview with Thomas Hertog, one of Hawking’s colleagues went:
CBC’s Matt Galloway: “It takes an incredible amount of humility for someone like Stephen Hawking to say that he had the perspective wrong, doesn’t it?”
Hertog: “Yes, I am sure. I admire him for that. Stephen had an ego, of course, but his passion for understanding was greater.”
Jim’s young daughter was also curious when, while playing in the bubbling creek behind their house, she asked her dad what the strange eel-like creature was that she found. Jim was curious too. They continued to follow their inquisitiveness and asked more questions. It turned out that Jim and his daughter had discovered a new species, the Morrison Creek lamprey – found nowhere else in the world.* Their discovery lead to this highly productive salmon creek gaining special status through the “Species at Risk Act” and years later, after restoration projects, fundraising, public education and many pints of beer, 275 hectares of the highly valuable Morrison Creek Headwaters and wetlands, as of this winter, have been protected for perpetuity. Simple curiosity saved the whole headwaters, protected a lamprey and brought a bunch of people together.
As adults stuck in our routines and world views we might not welcome our curiosity and think of it as an inner monkey that may get us into trouble. However, by simply wondering and asking questions, exploring new and strange places, taking a class, talking to people from different backgrounds and cultures or perhaps sometimes getting into trouble – we are expanding our world and opening it up to possibilities. As our friend Jim so naturally showed us, following our curiosity, may bring us much joy, learning and connection to others and help us to see the world in a more informed and intelligent way. Sometimes it may even save the world – or a strange looking eel.
*In case you’re curious, the Morrison Creek Lamprey has a life quite different from ours, as it spends five to seven years of it’s life with only it’s head sticking out of the mud. After that it has only a couple reproductive years left at which point it spends all it’s time rearranging pebbles to make it’s “nest” before mating and dying. Find out more and see pictures HERE.