Last week I slumped at my gate in an airport. Bored. Twenty-five more minutes until boarding, and I felt the tedium of the wait. How could I kill time? I tried Sudoku, then reading email, then Solitaire, but boredom and the noisy terminal distracted me.
I checked out noise-canceling headphones in a gadget store, but I couldn’t choose. I sagged back in line. Only twenty more minutes of monotony. My watch seemed to run backwards.
Two old women behind me discussed the evils of the internet. I yawned. Heard it all before.
Then one woman said, “The biggest problem with the internet is that it kills curiosity. We used to search for answers; now we just find information. The joy of the quest is dead.”
I sat up. My own curiosity was sparked and I began to wonder. I liked it. I recently read this,
Digital technologies are severing the link between effort and mental exploration … By making it easier for us to find answers, the Web threatens habits of deeper inquiry.*
Curiosity killed the cat. And soul-less (satisfaction starved) information is killing our curiosity.
The weariness of boredom
Boredom is the curse of the western world. With thousands of years of history at our fingertips, we feel the dullness of nothing to do. Pascal said, “We find joy in a struggle against obstacles. But when we have overcome these, rest proves unbearable because of its boredom.”
The dreary monotony of nothingness dulls our heart. No lasting excitement. Quick answers shortcut the adventures of inquiring pursuit. We satisfy our curiosity-thirst with the mini-thrills of small adventures of a night of Netflix or a trip to Wikipedia. Tomorrow we’re wearied.
It’s why we hate know-it-alls. (Except when they’re us.) Our inquisitive, exploratory discussion into the unknown is smothered by the lifeless inertia of a know-it-all’s flaccid fact.
We’ve replaced the roar and thunder of lightening with the silent flicker of a lightening bug.
Because real knowledge is an adventure
Consider all the best knowledge you’ve won. “Won” is the key ingredient. Real knowledge doesn’t come from looking over the shoulders of pioneers to read their diaries. Real knowledge comes from hitting the trail, when our own diaries overflow with discoveries.
From learning to ride a bike, conquering a language, becoming a scuba diver, starting a business, painting a poem, and learning to fly; real knowledge is an adventure. Wikipedia cost you nothing (unless you contribute ten dollars). Real knowledge is a hard fought triumph.
Tame, tepid, instant-answer Google can’t save us from the tedium of meaningless information.
We need curiosity
Our hearts, minds, and souls are made for exploration, the cognitive thrill of the inexplicable. We are perplexed, enthralled, intrigued, and captured. Curiosity conquers our boredom.
Because much of life is routine: we rise, eat, go to work, pacify an angry client, drive home, eat, watch a movie, and sleep. Tomorrow we do it again. Ten years disappear in YouTube clips.
Routine is merely nature’s respite—a needed rest—to equip us for an exploration of the unknown. It is the strange—the unknown—that stirs our curiosity. It is here we come alive.
That’s the real excitement of science. It’s about inexplicable, troublesome phenomena that challenge our theories. Einstein urged us to consider the anomaly. He counseled,
Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when we contemplate the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every day. Never lose a holy curiosity.
Shallow, instant-answers breed stagnation. Real, life-giving knowledge is found in the deep.
Christians too frequently offer instant answers to deep mysteries. I once heard a woman shyly share her confusion over her recent firing; the group chimed in (faster than a Google search) with,
Have you confessed known sin? Did you plead the blood of Christ? Have you thanked God for his many blessings? Did you rebuke the devil and claim Christ’s promises?
We always learn more in the lab than we do in the lecture. Jesus himself “learned obedience through all that he suffered” (Heb. 5:8). If Jesus learned his knowledge through the suffering adventure of saving the world, why are we so quick to offer Wikipedia answers to our friends?
Curiously repellant doctrines
C. S. Lewis said, “The doctrines which we find easy are the doctrines which give sanction to truths we already knew. The new truth (which we do not know and which we most need) is hidden precisely in the doctrines we least like and least understand” (slightly edited).
For every culture, certain Christian doctrines are repellant. We just don’t like them. But what is disagreeable in one culture is embraced by the next. If we want to know the real God—not the small god created by our cultural moment—we need curiosity about Godly things we dislike.
Not that Christians need to look to new answers for old problems; we need to look to the old answers—especially the ones we dislike—to our new questions. We haven’t plumbed ancient wisdom. We need to leave the stagnant shallows and enter into the deep.
As Pascal said, “Only an infinite and immutable object—that is, God himself—can fill this infinite abyss [of boredom].” Let’s never lose our holy curiosity.
* In my curiosity about curiosity, I stumbled upon this book, Curious: The Desire to Know and Why Your Future Depends on It by Ian Leslie. But I have only read excerpts. I’m waiting for the Kindle edition that is due in two weeks. But this time, I’m not bored as I wait.
As Pascale said, “Only an infinite and immutable object—that is, God himself—can fill this infinite abyss [of boredom].” Let’s never lose our holy curiosity. Great quote – one of the reasons I am always asking why, though it drives everyone else nuts. Our easily pleased and lack of questioning shows up in our needing to be spoon fed on Sunday mornings. Think someone wrote a book about that. Don’t remember who, think book was called something like Sunday School ate my kids or something like that. Better go do some research to find that book.
GREAT title for a new book: How Sunday School Ate My Children.
I think you ought to write it!
This was interesting.
So, if facts are easily brought to the screen about common subjects, the question becomes whether a genuinely curious person ought to research more and more esoteric objects or try to understand the facts better. I was talking with a co-worker about something like this the other day. He was saying how nice it will be once we can get wikipedia hardwired into our brain so that we just understand things. I was arguing against him that real knowledge doesn’t work that way – the process of understanding is more complicated than simply having a series of facts at our immediate disposal. Information isn’t knowledge – it’s the meaning of information that matters. If there were a server somewhere with all of Wikipedia (for example) stored on it, without understanding the meaning of the data it would be useless.
What we need are people who try to actually grasp what all of this data means – what the connections and implications are for our lives, for science, for history and theology.
I think a genuinely curious person will try to understand the “facts” better (though if a truly esoteric subject stirs your curiosity, more power to you).
Karl Barth was arguably the most influential theologian in the twentieth century. When asked to summarize all his writings, he said, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” In other words, those simple phrases took a lifetime of learning. Because he was curious.
I completely agree with you, information without understanding, without meaning, is next to useless.
We need to grasp the significance; that’s when information become knowledge.
Recently my wife was asked by her brother to go back and write down all the ‘sins’ she thinks she has committed. I told her, ‘bull crap!”
Yep, I’m the guy who’s immersed himself in St. Paul for the last three years. I told her, I’ll answer his email (and he use to be a minister). I asked, ‘have you given your life to Christ, do you walk in Christ?’ I already knew the answer.
Help me here. I told her that ‘if that’s your belief,’ God forgave your sins a long time ago, and don’t let anyone box you into a “you should feel bad because of your past.” Forget it; keep ‘walking the walk and talking the talk “in Christ.” ‘ I was amazed at the difference in her demeanour after she thought about it all for about 30 seconds. What say you?
It sounds like you really helped your wife. Good going. There are a set of people who wish to keep us down, belittled, marginalized, forgetful of God’s merciful love. We need to be careful. They have their formulaic answer. They like us to feel condemned.
But let’s not create our own formulaic answer in response. Honestly, I have had some incredible times of intimacy with God when I DID make a list of my sins. (I didn’t do it for condemnation, and if condemnation is the result DON’T DO IT!)
I made the list to remember God’s great merciful love, to see how far he has brought me. When I see how great God’s mercy has been when I didn’t deserve it, I actually sense his love more.
So you raise a perfect example of the problems of quick answers. Some people want to say, “List all the ways you are a dreadful sinner,” and other people give the quick answer, “You are a great person.”
Sometimes we need to hear how great God has made us, and sometimes we need to remember how far he has brought us. This is not a one size fits all. The gospel is always more subtle. That’s why it stirs our curiosity.
Sonny, really great point to bring up. Thanks.
I believe that curiosity mingled with wonder is what keeps us close to the creator, which for Christians is why we live and move and have our being. This is what makes a healthy childhood so precious. Out of curiosity a child asks, “where does milk come from?” We answer, “from a cow.” In wonder, he replies, “WOW” and often leaves it at that. Is the goal to understand greater esoteric content so we can impress ourselves and others or to fan the flame of our faith with wonder? I choose the latter even though I donated $10 to Wikipedia **grin**
Thanks for connecting curiosity with wonder. They are cousins, maybe even married. At least you can’t have one without the other.
I also like your connection of curiosity keeping us close to the creator. Because curiosity is the key link to creativity. Curiosity drives us to look anew, and new perspectives nourishes creativity.
I am incurably curious, but what intrigues me as I think about your article is the impetus behind curiosity. What drives our curiosity? Is it selfish ambition or is fueled by inspiration to better our fellow man or provide healing to others. Artists and musicians, doctors and teachers and all occupations could thrive with more curiosity.
I’m also intrigued by the curiosity that leads to creation and the realization that maybe I was created to be curious in order to share in ongoing creation of things waiting to be discovered. To be intrigued by the yet unseen.
It seems to me, you are curios about curiosity.
That seems like a good thing.
Curiosity killed the cat, but he didn’t die of boredom.
I go to the Ying-Yang thing when I wonder what keeps us going – constant yearning and constant fulfillment. What fisherman has ever landed a 20″ trout and said “Well, that’s it for fishing!” No, he comes back for the 24″ beauty.
Not curious at all, then you’re either clinically depressed or dying. Not curious because you know it all, then you’re clinically nuts.
I’m glad God is what He is, ‘cuz it gives me pleasure to find out something about Him, and then realize that there’s something else I want to know – that well ain’t never running dry.
Another good word – I’m curious where He’ll take you next.
ps – ever curious about what tattoo would look good on you?
I think my tattoo of choice would be a shark!
But I’m curious where God is taking me. I just don’t know, and I think he prefers it that way.
Thanks for sharing.