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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Curiosity by Philip Ball

Curiosity, How Science Became Interested in Everything by Philip Ball is a great follow-up to The Curiosity, the novel by Kiernan. In the novel Jeremiah Rice, a man was the curiosity. And a good chaser for The Swerve. In this non-fiction, curiosity is the quality in man that makes him interesting. More than interesting, but that is a good place to start. I always used curiosity as a tool in my classroom. Encouraging curiosity was one of my traits and when the web came along for us to make our own webpages and help make Alexander Pope’s nightmare become real, “the printing press will foster more authors.” All of my scholars became authors and it was their curiosity that inspired their web designs and constructions as well as inform the content of those pages. Ball is preaching to the choir about curiosity as the source of knowledge and power. In the end it was power I was generating in my classrooms, acquiring power is what education is all about, IMHO. It all starts with the curious. I would be remiss if I didn’t go to the obvious two allusions, I always associate with being curious and they are Alice’s constant use of it in her rabbit hole adventures and the two movies of my youth, I am Curious Yellow and I am Curious Blue.
Curiosity has a strange and curious history. Curiosity killed the cat, which had nine lives. The Romans weren’t curious since they accepted that the Greeks discovered everything and there were no new things, hence no curiosity, only wonder. This held true through the Dark Ages until the late sixteenth century and early seventeenth century.  To be curious was to be sinful and proud, not Christians traits. Curiosity was yet another bad trait the church needed to squelch to maintain its power. Curiosity was a way to gain power and in the seventeenth century power and knowledge become more universal with the printing press, humanism, and Protestantism flourishing. Learning by doing is becoming the mantra after having information pumped in.
Curiosity is a derivative of the Greek meaning to care. Curiosity began its place through the magic arts and then to the curios box filled with curious items that helped people explore their curiosity. That was the beginning of satiating one’s curiosity, collect stuff and store them in boxes, then books, then digits. Pan comes to mind. Humanism. Running into a lot of old friends and titles. Curiosity was running amok throughout Europe and germinating its seeds throughout Europe. That it was breaking out so rampantly, the old controlling way just disappeared in a generation. Wonder becomes curiosity and we are off to the modern world. Collecting data, storing it, math and science, math and science, then the telescope and they go to the moon and beyond. There are explosions of genius all over the map. Then comes the microscope and we go in a whole new direction. The cell reemerges as the key to it all.
We take curiosity for granted, but in the seventeenth century curiosity was new and separating it from God was very difficult and still is sometimes in some circles.  Oh and always be a keeper of secrets.

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