The first way we experience and discover the world is through our senses. As infants we do not have the luxury of learning in a multi-tiered lecture theatre; we “absorb information through (our) senses”. (Doorley, 2014). We are inherently curious about the world surrounding us, and at the most basic level we use our sight, smell, taste, hearing and touch to investigate unknown materials.
The most classic example (for me) of wanting to know something, and using sensory knowledge – as a form of research – to discover the answer, is the hotplate. Is it hot enough to put food on ? There’s no faster way of finding out than (DISCLAIMER: don’t try this at home) putting your hand on it. I’m not talking one dainty finger, either, I’m talking a mad palm-slap to the centre of the hot plate. Obviously that’s a shitty idea, but I when I’m curious about something I don’t necessarily acknowledge why I am curious, or look for background knowledge or sit back and think of how best to handle that particular situation, I just explore it. I don’t even have time for “I’m going to touch this hotplate to see if it is hot” to process through my mind, I just react – yes, I’ve done it several times.
The point of curiosity in this instance is to learn; the average human would learn to associate the pain of a burnt hand with touching a stove, and thus stop doing it (I’ll get there one day). Curiosity is how we learn to either refine or take a question further, focus on a new question, or simply learn no.
Curiosity is a fundamental aspect of research. It’s how we learn. For me, it’s an inherent, strong desire to discover connections, find answers and build on the sum total of human knowledge in an area. The same chemical reaction in my brain behind my urge to discover the temperature of my stove is the same as what causes me to wonder about the changing scope of film distribution across platforms, for example. We’re human, we want to know things; this is a distinctive hunger which creates the foundation for passionate and informed research – but hopefully I’ll find a safer and more fulfilling research topic than hot stoves in BCM212 this semester.
If the hot plate didn’t kill this cat, maybe curiosity will 😉