Wednesday, 16 November 2011


George Bush reputedly has an IQ of 120. This is not dim by any stretch of the imagination. In fact it is quite a bit higher than average. But people who met him were struck by his incurious nature. I believe his speechwriter David Frum once remarked something along those lines.

Personally, I cannot comment on the former president's intelligence or lack of since I have no knowledge other than that reported to me via the flawed and unreliable news media.
But it does make me think about something that has been niggling away at me for a long time: Some people have an insatiable, driving curiosity and some, though obviously intelligent, do not.

I was moved to put fingers to keyboard over this idea by a conversation I attempted to have with someone who was obviously bright, but seemed to have no spark about them at all. The conversation I attempted to have stemmed from some research that I found fascinating enough to delve deeper into. I had mistakenly believed, given the background of the person I was talking to that he might find it mildly interesting. So I volunteered what I thought might be seeds of an interesting discourse.

The article said that neanderthals tended to be ambush hunters as their spears were not designed for throwing but more for thrusting. It went on to further say that most adult neanderthal skeletons that had been found showed many trauma injuries such as broken and re-set bones.

When positing the reason for this, one orthopaedic expert said that the only analogue in the modern world for such a pattern of injury is a rodeo rider. Hence it is likely that the standard neanderthal approach to hunting was most likely to jump out of a bush, jab a stout spear into a buffalo or similar, and to hold on for dear life until it collapsed from blood loss or sheer disbelief.

Now, to me, the thought of our muscular hero holding grimly around the neck of an irate ungulate, his brow set in firm determination his eyes pointing in different directions as hooves and horns battered and gored his formidable form, is mildly humorous to say the least. I find this line of thinking interesting and in my imagination and my research, feel therefore compelled to learn a little bit more about the assumptions and facts upon which it all rests.

Not so my companion. He merely replied, when I concluded my hopeful two-paragraph monologue, with "uh.. yeah..." and commented about how gloomy the weather is today.

Conversely, I read an article about how the organism toxoplasmosis gondii may be responsible for road deaths in countries where it is prevalent, as its reproductive cycle is usually concluded in a cat, after incubation in a rat. Hence, the rat is compelled by its parasite to engage in risky behaviours.
Since humans catch it too and have, in this respect similar physiology to a rat, it would seem likely that humans also exhibit risky behaviour. This was borne out by the graph showing correlation of road deaths per capita with incidence of T. Gondii infection.

When I mentioned this to a lady acquaintance at a dance, it sparked a look of intense curiosity and a series of very interesting questions which precipitated an hour's discussion. Now, I know this nasty little creature is quite fascinating, making it's way, as it does to the brain of its host and secreting chemicals that interefere with dopamine production, but who would have thought it would spark an evening's conversation with an absolute stranger?

So, why the difference in response? Why do some people wish to know more about things whereas others are happy to think about no more than that which is immediately pertinent to their lives?
Of course we know most human attributes vary with a standard distribution, but does curiosity? Can you learn curiosity or is there a set of genes for it? Ever since my astonishing conversation in a Cypriot supermarket, I have been dogged by this question.

Well, since we are all here, writing and reading material that nobody forces us to, I think I can safely make the assumption that our population here comprises more than the average number of curious souls. And for that I give praise and remark again to myself that time spent tapping on here is absolutely not time wasted.

And now I am off to see what is in the fridge as it feels like tea time. I wonder how my bread turned out.


Jane and Lance Hattatt said...

We fear that increasingly one encounters a general lack of curiosity, prevalent in all age groups. It is somewhat depressing and makes for disappointing conversation.


I used to envy those who simply accepted life, and plodded through. A lot of the people around me when I worked at my last job (in a special school) were sort of institutionalized. The school routine, and groundhog day style timetable had turned some of the staff into robots.
Occasionally, an enthusiastic student or volunteer would join us. They would invariably be described as 'weird' or annoying. I caught glimpses of myself behaving like these narrow minded stalwarts every now and then. I vowed to leave.
Shame it took having 2 kids, which in turn left me grounded for a while, to force the end of that dangerous path.
Bloggers are very rarely incurious types, thank goodness.

Librarian said...

Hmmm good question; is curiosity genetically conditioned, or can it be learned? It certainly can be encouraged and, unfortunately, also be discouraged. My guess is that we are born with a certain curiosity; most children, if they grow up in a relatively normal, relatively secure environment, show curiosity as to what the world around them feels like, looks like, tastes like and so on.
And that curiosity can be encouraged - or discouraged.

PerlNumquist said...

Hmm.. I don't know. I watched two toddlers in high chairs in a cafe, they sat, pudding-like, without demanding any stimulation. Another child there of about the same age, was looking around trying to engage in eye contact and squealing to get attention. These were kids of about 15 months old. Is that long enough to beat curiosity out of someone or are some just bright sparks and some puddins right from conception? I feel, and its sad either way, that puddins are born not made.


I have 3 very different sons. Ok, my oldest boy was born 8 years before the middle one and has a different father. It is my middle son though, who is the most curious, and in an anxious, impatient way. "How do street lights work, am I going to drink beer in that pub when I'm bigger, why are the leaves dying?".
My youngest son explores, climbs, handles things, mirrors people, smells, examines. He doesn't ask.
My oldest son just accepts everything, he questions only the basics like "why can't I stay up 'til midnight?". I take no responsibility for his incuriosity.

re:think said...

I can offer no theory as to why some people are inquisitive and some not, but it is certainly something I have wondered about, especially when it appears to take the form of an active avoidance of information. I work in IT support, in an office with 6 colleagues. When Steve Jobs died, three of them had to resort to Google to find out who he was. That's just general knowledge even if you don't work in IT, surely?

PerlNumquist said...

Well, actual avoidance of fact is quite common. It is in the holders interest to not have their opinions challenged if certain world views are to be maintained. Hence one can see in Young Earth Creationists, New Age gullibles and Daily Mail readers, a heroic capability to steadfastly avoid evidence that might cast any doubt on their deeply held but often erroneous beliefs. This kind of wilful ignorance saddens me immensely but in the face of it, reason is powerless and mockery (though no more effective) slightly more fun.
But wilful ignorance is a choice whereas i am wondering if curioisty is.

Sonia said...

It's true that many people seem to only be curious about something if they figure that knowledge will further their statuses in life somehow. Funny but as I get older it seems I want to read nonfiction more and more... not that I'm saying it's "better" than fiction but I seem to be looking more for knowledge than entertainment (though I get quite a bit of that, too)...
Of course, when you're curious you find you get both in one, which is always nice.