How many types of curiosity are there? For now I propose two varieties. One relates to knowledge and our desire to understand the fundamental processes that affect our lives. The other relates to change driven by an innate impulse to improve the world around us. The difference between knowledge and change-based curiosity is not absolute. Knowledge-based curiosity helps us come to terms with our place in the universe while change-driven curiosity helps us deal with our limitations.
I am mostly concerned with change-driven curiosity. In 2004, John Updike delivered a lecture to students in which he noted that:
One of the problems of being a writer is that you don’t really provide answers…you provide more questions than answers and many of the things you write are things that puzzle rather than things where you have arrived at a conclusion…
I came across this pearl of wisdom whilst struggling to write about my suffragette grandmother, a lady for whom I have feelings ranged on a spectrum from admiration to incomprehension. Suddenly my attempts to grapple with her personality and career made sense, and I realised I would never fully understand what drove her, but that asking the questions helped me to accept her uniqueness and contribution to my life.
Change-driven curiosity comes from developing a mindset that looks at the world in a playful and creative way, using our intellect to expose sham and pursue clarity, even though these parade as abstractions that appear to slip through our fingers the closer we get to them. Possibilities and opportunities to grasp them come from the power of words to open the doors to imagination and beyond, and we should continue to grapple with them even as they elude us. As William Arthur Ward said, “Curiosity is the wick in the candle of learning.”
It is our duty as writers to keep our candles burning as brightly as possible.
1. John Updike, “ENG210 Creative Writing: A MasterClass,” Lecture at Academy of Achievement 9/6/2004