The Limits of Curiosity

In prin­ci­ple, I agree with the no­tion that it is un­for­giv­able to not want to know, and not want to im­prove your map to match the ter­ri­tory. How­ever, even the most cu­ri­ous per­son in the world can­not main­tain equal cu­ri­os­ity about all things, and even if they could there are limits on time and en­ergy. In gen­eral, the things that in­spire cu­ri­os­ity are de­ter­mined by your per­sonal likes, dis­likes, and bi­ases, and it is there­fore worth con­sid­er­ing care­fully where these de­mar­ca­tions fall so as not to de­prive our­selves of use­ful in­for­ma­tion. This is par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant when it comes to things that in­spire not just lack of in­ter­est, but aver­sion, or “anti-cu­ri­os­ity.”

How­ever, not all in­for­ma­tion is use­ful, and it can be use­ful to en­courage a bias that cuts you off from in­for­ma­tion that is not par­tic­u­larly use­ful to you, so as to bet­ter al­lo­cate your time and en­ergy. It is pos­si­ble that it could also be use­ful to fabri­cate an “I don’t want to know” stance about a cer­tain type of in­for­ma­tion so as to bet­ter al­lo­cate your time, (for ex­am­ple, ceas­ing to watch tele­vi­sion, and deny­ing cu­ri­os­ity about what is hap­pen­ing on your fa­vorite shows), but I will not dis­cuss or ad­vo­cate that here, largely be­cause it’s all I can do to hold the line against new time wasters.

The difficulty and dan­ger of this method is that it is best ac­com­plished by not think­ing about the things you don’t want to be cu­ri­ous about, and that can lead to not even re­al­iz­ing you aren’t cu­ri­ous about them, so im­por­tant things may slip through the cracks. For ex­am­ple, I have never smoked a cigarette, and it re­quires no effort on my part to not be cu­ri­ous about what it is like. That is such a deeply buried aver­sion that I might never have con­sciously no­ticed that lack of cu­ri­os­ity if I had not been writ­ing this ar­ti­cle. In this case, lack of cu­ri­os­ity about smok­ing is benefi­cial, but it could just as eas­ily have been some­thing that would be use­ful for me to be cu­ri­ous about, and I might never have no­ticed.

An­a­lyz­ing your own ar­eas of anti-cu­ri­os­ity is ex­tremely difficult, both be­cause your brain rebels at think­ing about things it ha­bit­u­ally doesn’t think about, and be­cause you will likely find a lack of rhyme or rea­son in which things you are an­tic­u­ri­ous about. Ques­tion­ing things deeply held enough that you don’t think about them is always deeply un­com­fortable.

Many such anti-cu­ri­os­ity re­gions are more a mat­ter of per­sonal prefer­ence than any­thing else. One of mine falls in the area of video games: I’ve never played them much, and I de­liber­ately cul­ti­vate a lack of cu­ri­os­ity about them be­cause I don’t be­lieve the en­joy­ment or value they might give me would out­weigh the amount of my pre­cious time they would likely take up if I started. How­ever, I spend more time than per­haps I should read­ing fan­fic­tion. There are prob­a­bly peo­ple read­ing this who are just the op­po­site, and there prob­a­bly isn’t any real differ­ence be­tween the two po­si­tions.

There are also many such re­gions that re­sult from not hav­ing much knowl­edge or skill in an area, and, rather than rec­tify­ing the knowl­edge gap, de­vel­op­ing a sense of su­pe­ri­or­ity or dis­dain in re­la­tion to the area. One fairly com­mon topic for this to oc­cur around (at least for women) is the ap­pli­ca­tion of makeup. It is one I had to over­come my­self. I didn’t know how to put on makeup well as a teenager, and hadn’t re­ally tried, and looked down on the sorts of girls who came to class af­ter an ob­vi­ous half-hour beauty reg­i­men. There were all sorts of plau­si­ble ex­cuses for my dis­dain (women shouldn’t make them­selves into Bar­bies, in­tel­lect is more im­por­tant, etc. ), but the real root rea­son was that I couldn’t do it my­self. It took time to over­come that enough to re­al­ize the real benefits to hav­ing that knowl­edge (even if I still don’t bother on a daily ba­sis), but there *are* real benefits to hav­ing that knowl­edge. At the very least, makeup is an ex­pected part of for­mal or busi­ness at­tire for women in the US, and there are tan­gible benefits to fol­low­ing such so­cial con­ven­tions re­gard­less of how log­i­cal they are.

It is more difficult to over­come such an is­sue if it is rooted in lack of abil­ity rather than lack of knowl­edge. I have long rec­og­nized in­tel­lec­tu­ally the value of rec­og­niz­ing and re­spond­ing ap­pro­pri­ately to so­cial cues, but it doesn’t come eas­ily to me, and my frus­tra­tion of­ten man­i­fests it­self in a feel­ing that I don’t want to know. Rec­og­niz­ing that and over­com­ing it is an on­go­ing pro­cess.

Main­tain­ing a bal­ance on such things is difficult. I know that in ar­eas in which I am com­fortable, I ex­cel at op­ti­miza­tion, but if I am un­com­fortable I sub­scribe strongly to the “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” philos­o­phy. Both ap­proaches have their mer­its and their place, the challenge is main­tain­ing aware­ness of which I am us­ing and why I am us­ing it so that I don’t fall into a trap of willful ig­no­rance.

Even when you have iden­ti­fied an area in which you should re­verse course and cul­ti­vate cu­ri­os­ity, the bat­tle is not over. You still have to over­come the hur­dle of learn­ing about the sub­ject. How­ever, I am not qual­ified to write an ar­ti­cle on over­com­ing pro­cras­ti­na­tion be­cause I am not nearly suc­cess­ful enough at avoid­ing it.