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Are you a nosy, hunter or dancer? New book on curiosity reveals all | Psychology

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MeIn the early 17th century, a room in a house in Copenhagen was filled with hundreds of objects. Bones, shells and stuffed birds, not to mention weapons, rocks and stuffed polar bear cubs hanging from the ceiling. This was the Museum Wormium, collected and curated by the Danish physician and philosopher Olaus Wormius, or Ole Worm for most people. 400 years later, this quintessential curiosity cabinet still inspires identical twins, philosophy professor Perry Zahn and bioengineering professor Dani S. Bassett. What prompted the worm to collect? What electrical signals were firing in his brain? How would the Enlightenment eccentric behave if he had access to Wikipedia?

These are the questions asked in Zurn and Bassett’s latest work. Curious Minds: The Power of Connectionexplores the neurological, historical, philosophical, and linguistic underpinnings of curiosity. What exactly is curiosity? Where does it come from and how does it work? In question-studded manuscripts, scholars explored everything from Plutarch to Google’s algorithms, arguing that curiosity is networked. increase. “It works by connecting ideas, facts, perceptions, sensations and data points,” they write in the book. “But it also works within the human grid of friendship, society and culture.

Perhaps it all started with my grandmother, the modern oleworm. Bassett describes her as a “super collector”. She had a basement and crawl space full of antique paraphernalia such as chairs, books, crystals her glasses, silverware, paintings and buttons. “I instinctively remember Dani and I crawling in there on all fours and getting lost in these labyrinths on top of the labyrinth of old things,” Zahn says. The twins say this informal cabinet of curiosity inspired their young minds. says Zurn.

Neither Zurn nor Bassett are technically historians, but you wouldn’t know from reading their books. The former studies political philosophy at American University in Washington, DC, while the latter is a professor of physics, astronomy, engineering, and neurology. When He majored in psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. yet, Curious Mind Full of historical tidbits, such as the Roman essayist Plutarch’s antidote to the “disease” of curiosity (don’t open letters, don’t have sex with your wife, stay away from distant intriguing sounds). please give me!)

In fact, the book is very interdisciplinary. Before diving into the work of Japanese poet Naoki Higashida, is there anywhere else I can read about the brain’s motivational circuitry on page 25? The approach had information from childhood.

“We were homeschooled in a way that offered a lot of flexibility in what we could learn,” says Zurn. The twins grew up with her nine siblings in rural Pennsylvania and had “a great deal of freedom” when it came to reading. They also did a lot of hands-on learning outdoors. “At the same time, there were severe constraints on who we could be socially and how far that learning could go.”

A collection of antiques amassed by the Danish physician and natural historian Ole Worm, or what he called Worm Anum, a 1655 engraving published by Elsevier of Amsterdam. Photo: Interfoto/Alamy

The twins’ parents believed that men should go to college and pursue careers, and women should instead get married and “serve and obey” their husbands. Bassett and Zurn were assigned female at birth. The twins now use the they/them and he/him pronouns respectively.

“School was really my heartbeat, and from the moment I can remember, I knew it had to be part of my life,” says Zurn. “I remember being incredibly frustrated and disappointed when I went against this expectation of not being able to continue my studies.”

Thankfully, the seeds that were sown could not be uprooted.The twins homeschooled became interested in curiosity itself as they pursued their interests in all things and academics. “At the beginning of our careers, our fields were so different that it wasn’t even clear that we would have the opportunity to write a book together,” says Bassett. Bassett worked on the neuroscience of learning. “And that’s when we started talking. That conversation led to a seven-year collaboration,” says Bassett. “This book is the culmination of that.”

How do philosophy and neuroscience complement each other? It all starts with the book’s first and most deceptively simple question. What is curiosity? “Some researchers in science have stressed that perhaps the field is not ready to define curiosity and how it differs from other cognitive processes. The ambiguity of the neuroscience literature prompted Bassett to turn to philosophy: “There are so many historical definitions, styles, and subtypes out there that you can bring them back to neuroscience and ‘in the brain’.” Can we see these in ?’

But even when discussing neuroscience or philosophy, Curious Mind “Knowledge is the network, and curiosity is the growth principle of that network,” the twins write in the book’s preface. “Curiosity is about connecting ideas and people and building knowledge together,” he explains Zurn. But are he and his twin particularly enthusiastic about this theory just because they are twins who have been linked all their lives?

“Yeah, yes,” says Zurn. “It’s interesting that we have two separate bodies and two separate minds, but at the same time, we’ve always built up our knowledge of the world together,” he said. He adds that this didn’t drive the twins to the idea of ​​networked curiosity.

In ancient times, curiosity was viewed with suspicion. The essayist and philosopher Plutarch viewed curiosity as a disease and advocated not opening letters and consummating marriages.
In ancient times, curiosity was viewed with suspicion. The essayist and philosopher Plutarch viewed curiosity as a disease and advocated not opening letters and consummating marriages. Photo: Alamy

So how do twins from different fields (not to mention different cities) write a book together? Curious Mind It took six years, and Zurn and Bassett wrote at different times, usually when one was on vacation. “The number of emails from Dani saying ‘Look at this quote from this book’ or ‘Look at this article’ is just a landslide,” he laughs Zurn. The twins surprised their editors when they said they wanted to include hand-drawn diagrams to illustrate their theory in the book… on a napkin.

“The editors initially thought it was a little strange,” says Bassett. One drawing of him in the book shows him two smiling faces looking at a screen labeled “Wikipedia”, missing the back of his head, and drawn into a series of connected lines and dots. It has been replaced, visualizing how different people connect different knowledge. For example, do you browse closely related pages when you click through an online encyclopedia, or do you jump from ‘cream crackers’ to ‘list of entertainment affected by the 9/11 attacks’?

Depending on how you answer, you may become a meddlesome, a hunter, or a of the interesting theories of Curious Mind We assume that the three basic modes of curiosity practice fit the three archetypes. Nosy people make it their business to know everything. Like a butterfly that flies from topic to topic, wanting to know as much as possible. Hunters, on the other hand, are inquisitive and, like hounds, tirelessly searching for new discoveries. Dancers rely on their imagination to make creative leaps through knowledge.

Zurn developed these archetypes by reviewing the history of Western intellectual thought. He read countless accounts of curiosity in historical literature and discovered that meddlesome, hunter, and dancer were “words and terms and concepts that come up.” Zurn says he’s “pretty sure” these aren’t the only archetypes of curiosity, but “it’s a good place to start.”

Bassett says it can feel like an archetype at certain times. They are nosy when reading books for personal enjoyment. They are more like hunters when investigating. Zurn agrees. At different points in your life, even in your everyday life, you can embody these different archetypes.

Botanist Robin Wall Kimmerer faced criticism early on for her work, which attempts to weave modern practices with Native American knowledge. She is a Potawatomi citizen.
Botanist Robin Wall Kimmerer faced criticism early on for her work, which attempts to weave modern practices with Native American knowledge. She is a Potawatomi citizen. Photo: Dale Kakuk

Ok, of course – but here’s a question you might suddenly want to know: What’s the point? How can this knowledge be applied? As interdisciplinary scholars, Bassett and Zurn both argue that education should be ‘dedisciplined’. The twins question how curricula are determined and norms of knowledge are created, and refer to his 20th-century educational reformer Abraham Flexner, who advocated the “usefulness of useless knowledge.” Flexner questioned the narrow approach that forces scholars to answer utilitarian questions rather than sailing into uncharted waters.

“It’s very important to be open about how your mind works,” says Bassett. Curious Mind It also avidly explores whose curiosity is encouraged and who is monitored. The twins examine alienation, power, and privilege throughout the book. One persuasive passage points out that not everyone is admired for having the same qualities as Leonardo da Vinci. I took notes and sketched on impulse, moving between mathematics, science, technology, music, and the arts.

“The ability to think outside the established framework of knowledge can be heavily despised, depending on who you are and where your curiosity takes you,” the twins wrote, then an indigenous botanist. Robin Wall Kimmerer, citing the work of disability theorist Alison Keifer, feminist Gloria Anzaldur, and Native American philosopher Shay Welch experienced being shot down by academic advisors early in their careers. there is.

“These women who are now the founding foundations of their subfields, fields, or new fields, despite following the voices and calls of curiosity that are rooted in themselves and their communities, say no.” “Thankfully they didn’t listen.”

Zurn and Bassett didn’t listen either. They escaped the narrow confines of expectations and embarked on a six-month tortuous exploration through the science and philosophy of curiosity. “Rather than saying, ‘Here are all the answers,’ it’s an invitation for readers to travel with us.”

  • Curious Minds: The Power of Connection The book by Perry Zurn and Dani S Bassett is published by MIT Press (£22.50).to support Guardian When Observer, order a copy at charges may apply