Curious: The Context

In this article, a definitive look at what philosophers, theologians, psychologists, and scientists throughout history have thought regarding focusing on learning, growing, and having a growth mindset as opposed to trying to be perfect and fixed in your ways.

The Joy of Curiosity

In a world where virtually all information is available with a few keystrokes or swipes of your finger on a smartphone, it’s sometimes difficult to resist learning the answer to a question right away, but try to resist the urge! When you make yourself curious about something, then resolve it by learning the answer to your curiosity, that resolution provides you with positive hedonic value. In other words, curiosity makes you happier.

Despite this effect, when offered the option of learning the answer to a trivia question right away, or being offered the chance to delay the answer, most participants chose to see the answer immediately. Part of growth is recognizing these biases in ourselves and doing what we can to combat them. Now that you’re aware of this behavior, explore and experience curiosity with the knowledge that you’ll likely feel better afterwards!

Social Queues Can Increase Curiosity

To best take advantage of this effect, leveraging social cues can help you incorporate curiosity into your daily life. In a fascinating study conducted by Rachit Dubey, Hermish Mehta, and Tania Lombrozo, the authors were able to increase curiosity of their test subjects when reading through a list of scientific questions by increasing a social queue for those questions (in the form of up-votes). Additional explanation of the up-votes was given to the test subjects: “the up‐votes were given by members of the online community who viewed the full text, not just the topic of the questions,” and that “the up‐votes were only based on the questions and not the answers to those questions.” The key takeaways included increased curiosity for questions with more up-votes (primarily via the reduced curiosity of questions with fewer up-votes), and the overall conclusion that an inherently intrinsic feeling such as curiosity can be extrinsically impacted. This has all sorts of implications for how we live our lives, who and what we choose to incorporate into our lives, and how we interact and manage others at work.

Modern Philosophy, Psychology, & Science

Modern science and psychology have contributed to the development of the growth mindset theory, which emphasizes the importance of a positive attitude towards learning and personal growth. Psychologist Carol Dweck's research on the growth mindset has highlighted the importance of viewing failures and challenges as opportunities for growth, rather than evidence of fixed abilities. Similarly, the field of positive psychology emphasizes the importance of focusing on one's strengths and building on them to promote personal growth and well-being.

Modern philosophy encourages personal growth and the pursuit of knowledge and self-improvement. Philosophers such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Martin Heidegger emphasized the importance of individual growth and self-expression. Similarly, existentialist philosophers such as Søren Kierkegaard and Jean-Paul Sartre emphasized the importance of personal responsibility and the pursuit of authenticity. Overall, modern philosophy encourages individuals to focus on their own growth and development, rather than adhering to fixed ideas or societal expectations.

Axial Philosophies Overall

The Axial Philosophies, which include the teachings of Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, and Greek philosophy, emphasized the importance of learning and personal growth. They advocated for a growth mindset, encouraging individuals to focus on improving themselves rather than striving for perfection or being fixed in their ways. Confucius, for example, emphasized the importance of self-cultivation and continuous learning, while Taoism focused on living in harmony with the natural world and embracing change. Similarly, Buddhism promoted the idea of impermanence and the need to let go of attachments, while Greek philosophers like Socrates emphasized the importance of self-examination and questioning assumptions.

Confucianism & Daoism

Confucianism emphasizes personal and social morality, emphasizing self-cultivation and the importance of relationships. The Analects, a collection of Confucius' teachings, encourages individuals to continually learn and improve themselves. Daoism, on the other hand, emphasizes living in harmony with nature and embracing change. The Dao De Jing, a key text of Daoism, emphasizes the importance of simplicity and humility. Both philosophies advocate for a growth mindset and the importance of personal growth.

Hinduism & Buddhism

Hinduism emphasizes the importance of personal growth and self-realization through the pursuit of knowledge and spiritual practice. The concept of dharma, which encompasses one's duties, ethics, and obligations, is central to Hindu philosophy. The Bhagavad Gita, a key Hindu text, emphasizes the importance of detachment and action without attachment, encouraging individuals to focus on the process of learning and growth rather than the outcome. Similarly, the concept of karma emphasizes the importance of personal responsibility and the idea that one's actions have consequences.

Similarly, Buddhism emphasizes the importance of personal growth and the pursuit of enlightenment through spiritual practice and mindfulness. The Four Noble Truths, a central teaching of Buddhism, emphasizes the importance of acknowledging and letting go of suffering. The Eightfold Path, another key teaching, provides guidance for personal growth through practices such as right understanding, intention, speech, and action. Buddhism also emphasizes the importance of impermanence and the idea that change is inevitable, encouraging individuals to focus on the process of growth rather than attachment to fixed outcomes.

Traditional Western Philosophy & Stoics

Traditional Western philosophy and the Stoics emphasized the importance of personal growth and self-improvement. Socrates, for example, encouraged individuals to question their assumptions and examine their beliefs. The Stoics, such as Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius, emphasized the importance of focusing on what is within one's control and letting go of attachment to external outcomes. They also emphasized the importance of reason and rationality in personal growth and development.

Christianity, Judaism, Islam

Christianity emphasizes the importance of personal growth and spiritual development through faith and practice. The concept of grace, or unmerited divine assistance, encourages individuals to focus on growth and improvement without the pressure of achieving perfection. The Bible emphasizes the importance of humility, repentance, and forgiveness, encouraging individuals to recognize their imperfections and strive for personal growth. Similarly, the concept of sanctification emphasizes the ongoing process of growth and transformation.

Judaism also emphasizes personal growth and spiritual development through faith and practice. However, unlike Christianity, Judaism places a greater emphasis on the importance of following religious law and ritual. The concept of tikkun olam, or repairing the world, emphasizes the importance of social justice and ethical behavior. Similarly, the concept of teshuvah emphasizes the importance of repentance and returning to ethical behavior. Both Christianity and Judaism emphasize the importance of humility and forgiveness, but their approaches to personal growth differ in their emphasis on law and ritual.

Finally, Islam also emphasizes personal growth and spiritual development through faith and practice. Like Judaism, Islam places a significant emphasis on following religious law and ritual. However, Islam also emphasizes the importance of social justice and charitable acts, as well as the importance of personal discipline and self-improvement. Unlike Christianity and Judaism, Islam also emphasizes the importance of submission to God and the concept of unity in the ummah, or Muslim community. While all three religions emphasize personal growth and ethics, their approaches differ in their emphasis on law, ritual, and community.

Further Reading

The Whole Being Instituted considers curiosity part of "intellectual health." Click to learn more!


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