Curiosity’s Claim

From Maria Papova:

In an age obsessed with practicality, productivity, and efficiency, I frequently worry that we are leaving little room for abstract knowledge and for the kind of curiosity that invites just enough serendipity to allow for the discovery of ideas we didn’t know we were interested in until we are, ideas that we may later transform into new combinations with applications both practical and metaphysical….

This lament, alas, is timelier than ever. As Columbia biological sciences professor Stuart Firestein reminds us in the excellent Ignorance: How It Drives Science, grant applications for scientific research are now routinely denied on the grounds of being “curiosity-driven” — a term used in a pejorative sense whereas, ironically, it should describe the highest aspiration of science, something many a great scientist can speak to.

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  • This is great! Never quite thought of it this way, but as I look back it has been my curiosity, the “wasted” time exploring the ideas and reflections of others just because I realized that there was something I didn’t know. : )

  • RJS

    Curiosity driven vs. hypothesis driven … physics still has some curiosity driven research, and my work falls in this direction. Biology research, especially that funded by NIH, is “hypothesis driven” – and curiosity driven is pejorative.

    No funded work, by the way, is totally a shot in the dark. There is always some reason and rationale for the direction taken in curiosity driven work. But there is not the same kind of specific hypothesis to be proven.

  • DRT

    I am out of this loop, but I always considered “fundamental research” to be that which is designed to look into the basic constituents, and those are where the big discoveries are made.

    RJS, is my view out of date?

  • Great post: Thank you.

  • James Rednour

    “The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not ‘Eureka!’ (I found it!) but ‘That’s funny …'” — Isaac Asimov