Saturday, June 07, 2008

The Cure for Boredom

I like the quote, "The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity." This has been attributed to Dorothy Parker, and it makes perfect sense to me. Humans are not the only animals with curiosity, but we've certainly pursued it further than any of our fellow creatures, especially in the last few hundred years.

You could say that science and technology are the main fruits of all that curiosity, especially if you take a realistically broad historical view of what technology is. I've been reminded of that recently as I have re-read selected chapters of James Burke's books Connections and The Day the Universe Changed. Great books.

I remember watching the original "Connections" show on PBS and reading the companion book back in the early 1980's. As with biological evolution, it's amazing how ad hoc and non-directional that process has been, "solving" various problems in strange and unexpected ways. There are and have been in recent history research labs that set out to develop specific technologies for specific applications and markets (e.g., the iPhone was probably no accident). But many scientific and technological discoveries and inventions have been the result of people looking to do something else entirely. As Burke writes in Connections, "The reason why each event took place where and when it did is a fascinating mixture of accident, climatic change, genius, craftsmanship, careful observation, ambition, greed, war, religious belief, deceit, and a hundred other factors." I think curiosity is one of the more basic factors.

A basic premise of The Day the Universe Changed is that what we "know" is greatly affected by the world view provided by (and often enforced by) our society or culture. This isn't to say all knowledge is relative, but just to point out how difficult it can be to change the universe! When people "knew" that the Earth was flat, or that it was the center of the universe with everything revolving around it on crystal spheres, that made it tough to be a Copernicus or a Galileo or a Darwin (it's still tough to be a Darwin, at least in the USA). Curiosity and persistence (and often some genius) ultimately won the day and "changed reality" in myriad ways. This in turn opened the way for other curious people to try and figure out what to do with this newly acceptable knowledge, and to open yet more doors, often not the ones they intended.

I am personally curious about a wide range of things, though not about everything (e.g., I greatly prefer books, travel, and the web to almost anything that involves television, other than a DVD movie now and then). This curiosity is one of the things I like about myself, and I feel lucky to be living in an age and in circumstances that allow me to indulge my curiosity in various ways. Boredom was cured before it had a chance to develop.


astropixie said...

interesting.... i've enjoyed the curiosity quote for many years now, but have attributed it to Ellen Parr. hm. thanks!

FlyingSinger said...

Yes, I also saw some attributions to "Ellen Parr" but a page I checked said there was no record of any works by "Ellen Parr" and that the quote was just as often attributed to Dorothy Parker (but not found in print for her either). So it's a bit of a mystery as discussed