Curiosity Didn’t Kill the Cat

curiosity didnt kill the cat

Troy Headrick’s personal blog can be found at Thinker Boy:  Blog & Art

My mother has told me stories about how curious I was as a child.  I don’t know if I was born this way or if this curiosity was mostly nurtured.  I guess that’s sort of a what-came-first-the-chicken-or-the-egg type of question.  I do know that mom got me going in the right direction by encouraging me to look and listen and ask questions.  And for that, I owe her nearly everything.

In my last post, “Overthinking:  A Nuanced Discussion,” I wrote about critical thinking and several related issues.  In this one, I’d like to discuss curiosity, the engine that drives us to ask more questions and become better thinkers.

Curiosity motivates us, keeps us alive and fresh and exploring.  I would even argue that those who hunger to examine and grow intellectually are happier and thus curiosity feeds into that felicity.  The curious are less likely to be bored because they are aware of how little they’ve seen and understood and how much there is yet to see and understand.  The truly smart realize how dumb they are and how far they have to go to get to where they want to be.  On the other hand, those who think they know it all, often know the least.  The Dunning-Kruger Effect explains this well.  This psychological principle holds that the truly incompetent are so incompetent that they are utter incapable of seeing themselves objectively.  Such folks think of themselves as geniuses when the exact opposite, in fact, is true.

Curiosity can be aimed outward, toward others and the world, but it can also be aimed inward, toward the self.  In “Know Thyself,” an article by John D. Mayer that appears in Psychology Today, the author writes that we should all aim to have “personal intelligence” and that those who do “understand themselves and know who they are.”  Mayer goes on to write that they “evaluate others more accurately and…are better at acknowledging their own limitations.”  They also “make better guesses about how people are likely to behave.”

I would argue that having “personal intelligence” makes a person much more likely to be able to solve problems and handle the sort of stress that accompanies them.  Those with self-knowledge are likely able to draw on a wellspring of inner resources when difficulties arise.  They are capable of self-regulation, are able to stay calm and engage in the sort of unemotional analysis that leads to insights about what sort of problem they are facing and how to devise an insightful response.

Thus, curiosity, self-study, self-awareness, critical thinking, artful problem solving, and happiness are all interrelated.

It all starts, though, with looking inward, deeply and profoundly.  Those who take this first step—and take it seriously—are far more likely to end up living better, more fulfilling lives.  They will feel more in control when problems arise.  They will have inner resources to draw upon to empower them.  Rather than being pushed around by forces that feel overpowering, they will be able to push back and may even be capable of exerting force that overpowers.

“Know thyself” is a philosophical maxim that some date to the ancient Egyptians.  Socrates, the great Greek teacher and philosopher who was eventually forced to drink hemlock because his ideas were considered too radical—many great thinkers are so far ahead of their time that they are often misunderstood—claimed that the basis of all knowledge was self-knowledge.  I would definitely tend to agree with that argument.  I would add that knowing thyself begins with the feeling that the self is a mystery that needs to be examined carefully.  Curiosity is the impetus that pushes us toward that examination.

Given that curiosity is such a valuable tool that enables our thinking, what can be done to nurture it in ourselves and in others?  Coming up with the answer to this question could very well be the key to happiness and “success” (however one wants to define it).

23 thoughts on “Curiosity Didn’t Kill the Cat

  1. Excellent post. I was thinking about this the other day, about how curiosity seems to be punished in some aspects of society. It’s as if wanting to look behind the mirror, to know what others have deemed the unknowable, is a defect, is abberant behavior, that it’s somehow wrong. Thank you for speaking on the importance of curiosity, and why there are those of us who just wish to have it sated by exploring ourselves and the world around us inside and out.

    1. Thank you for the interesting comment. You are absolutely right. Those who ask questions are often seen as being “dangerous.” As an educator, I sometimes wonder if AUTHORITY really wants critical thinkers. A populace full of curious folks who think critically is certainly a hard one to control.

  2. Those who refuse to question things or ask why are the easiest people to take advantage of. It’s no wonder the world is full of mindless sheeple..most will take things at a surface level and won’t bother to ask why. I used to ask why all the time and instead of receiving a proper answer I would be told, because I said so, which told me those in charge didn’t know why things were that way either and didn’t like to be put on the spot. Question, question everything. We should be taught how to think and not what to think so curiosity is a good thing.

    1. I absolutely agree with everything you’ve said! We have to question EVERYTHING. Most aren’t comfortable (or capable) of doing this, though. You’ve provided a perfect explanation of almost all of the current political and cultural problems facing America today. There are too few thinkers out there!

  3. The idiom is only half stated, as such the way when people try to obfuscate and butcher truth to cut off a fine sliver of something to suit their own agenda.
    Curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought it back. To me that speaks of “shock”. Like OMG a STUNNED MULLET. perhaps petrified like wood. But relief, or sublimation of the realisation (I remember DM telling me of somatisation!) Can help the individual feel normal and/or alive again.
    There are other epigrams such as cats have 9 lives (that would be referring to the kitsune, a fox. Vulpine as opposed to feline) And they always land on their feet.
    Well, if curiosity is going to kill me, good thing I have 9 lives and always land on my feet. So I’ll die standing tall, and then rematerialise like nothing happened at all, because that’s what it’s like for a mind to be free.
    It takes love, friendship, safety, security and a distinct lack of “fear for appearing foolish” to foster creativity. You have the most fun when you’re not trying to impress anyone. Pretend everything is possible. Nothing is off limits. And once kids get the swing of “free thinking and being”.. the creativity just flows.

    1. Thanks for your comment! You’ve given me a lot to think about! If it’s true that curiosity is somehow fatal, then being curious would certainly be a pretty good way to die.

      1. It’s only fatal to the unworthy ideas. Because are we really going to go about killing cats? Perhaps one should seek Shroedinger and ask about this thought catsperiment. LOL.
        They are words first, and discussed with others to help understand facets and aspects that on your own you wouldn’t have otherwise seen. Once the idea has been refined, then scientific method of control independents and variables may be applicable. Test the theory! Evaluate! Recreate! And the cycle continues.

  4. Very impressive. There are two type of smart or intelligent people: street smart and book smart. I think street smart are more successful in each aspect of life because they think out of the box. Curiosity of course provides us extra knowledge due to the nature of its exploration. Our curiosity may lead us to both positive and negative end. Very good article.

    1. Thank you for the comment. I agree that curiosity can lead us into two directions–something I didn’t really address in my blog but probably should have. Maybe I’ll write a second piece on curiosity to deal with this important issue? It’s possible for us to have book “book” smarts and “street” smarts, isn’t it?

      1. My son is both book and street smart but my daughter is only book smart. My mother never went to school but she ended up being a mayor of the town. My personal experience make me think of we need both or one to succeed.

    1. Thanks for the comment. Speaking of curiosity, you’ve got me curious about what you mean by “enabling”? By the way, do you blog? If so, I’ll like to check out your site.

      1. There was a few lines about making excuses to delay beginning a journey…the troll in my head was whispering, “Hey, you can do that! You know how to procrastinate…you should do that now!”
        But instead I sat down and wrote. Just to not be idle!
        I do blog, thank you for asking. It’s and if you want to check it out, I’d be flattered.

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