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.