Several months ago, I was sitting in my good friend’s living room, talking with him and his dad. Our conversation shifted to more interesting topics once we’d had a few beers each. I remember mentioning that people’s understanding of the universe would always be a very small fraction of what was possible, and that fact made me sad. My friend looked at me with his head tilted and said, “Seriously? I do not give a damn about space — I couldn’t care less!” His dad agreed. “Yea, we’re here on earth. Who cares about space?”
I was really taken aback by this. It’s hard to justify wanting to learn about something that has no obvious practical value. Learning about space won’t affect my survival, it won’t make me more money, and it won’t change my daily routine. I just like to learn about it because it amazes me. That’s it.
I read Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot when I was 15. That book, coupled with Richard Dawkins’ Selfish Gene, left me in a perpetual state of awe. The universe suddenly became far more interesting than I’d ever imagined. I looked at everything differently, and actually became a much happier person. Those books gave me a sincere appreciation for life and increased my curiosity tenfold.
Then I read Brian Greene’s Elegant Universe when I was 20. That was the first book I can remember that made my brain hurt. I didn’t understand superstring theory all that well, but it still fascinated me.
And while I was reading that book, I decided to start attending classes that I wasn’t enrolled in. I had a lot of free time so I looked through my school’s course book and picked the ones that looked like they’d be interesting. The one that I enjoyed most was the history of film, so I spent my Tuesday and Thursday nights in a classroom, taking notes on stuff that “didn’t matter.”
I guess the point I’m trying to make is that most people let their curiosity die when their childhood ends. It’s depressing. My curiosity has gotten me farther than anything else — more than skill, more than my degree, and more than knowing “the right people.” If something interests me, I study it then try it. If it’s something I fall in love with, I keep going further down the rabbit hole.
Curiosity is why I dissected my family’s computer when I was 10-years old and put it back together to see if it’d still work (it did). It’s why I tried to patent two inventions when I was 14. It’s why I created Connect Four on my calculator in high school. It’s why I got into editing video. It’s why I taught myself guitar. It’s why I went into the office on my days off so I could learn Photoshop. It’s why I spent four months trying to start a company in an industry I knew very little about. And it’s why I want to travel around Europe by myself.
Curiosity pushes you to try new things and test your boundaries. It expands your thinking and makes you a happier person, even if what you’re doing has no inherent practical value.
So don’t ever tell your kids that curiosity killed the cat. At least the cat was happy.