Did Curiosity 'Kill' the Cat?

Fareeha Arshad

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“Why is it that when one man builds a wall, the next man immediately needs to know what’s on the other side?”
― George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones

I always read the end of the book before I start the story.

No kidding. I cannot help it. It’s the same with any movie or series. I cannot help but watch the end before I start watching the show. That’s why I never start reading or watching any show before the series is complete, and I know, for sure, how it ends.

That’s why I watched Iron Man’s death in The Endgame before I watched all the parts to all the series in the Marvel series; and that’s why I read about Sirius’s, Dumbledore’s, and Snape’s death before I started reading the Harry Potter series; and maybe that’s why I make sure that I know of all the heartbreaks throughout the story so that I am well prepared with a bottle of water and a huge box of tissue.

My curiosity to know how it ends drives me insane. The feeling is real and painful — though more towards the insane end of the spectrum.

We, as humans, have an insatiable appetite for curiosity. Nothing we do ever satisfies us. Instead, for us, trying to fulfil the urge for curiosity is like trying to extinguish a fire with kerosene — it simply burns more and yearns more.

It is this curiosity that pushes us to know more and to learn more. This feeling can be attributed to the part of our brain that knows looking for new information will only help us tomorrow. Being curious is a part of human evolution. The more curious we get, the more adaptable we are — because we keep looking for better choices. In A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, the philosopher Edmund Burke writes,

Curiosity is the most superficial of all the affections; it changes its object perpetually; it has an appetite which is very sharp, but very easily satisfied; and it has always an appearance of giddiness, restlessness and anxiety.

Unstrangely, people who are always curious are not easily bored. Boredom births monotony. Curiosity combats this apathy. In his infamous book The End of Boredom, John P. Sisk writes,

Unless some people prefer the excitement of change to the comfort of repetition, repetition itself will soon cease to be comfortable. Certainly, there is no more exciting escape from the boredom of repition that the discovery, however inconvinient or disturbing, that the truth is quite other than it appears to be.

This means that some of the world’s significant discoveries have resulted from running away from monotony — towards fueling curiosity. However, it’s not always the case.

We are curious even when we are not bored. It’s inevitable.

My curiosity to understand and learn more about the different sensing options for cancer diagnosis stems from my interest in that field and not from boredom.

In my head, I personify curiosity as this two-year-old child whose appetite for answers can never be satiated — no matter how many questions you answer for them. Tell a two-year-old that they have to give up their candy if they want their question answered. Most often, they readily give up without any hesitation. That’s what curiosity makes you do. We are ready to compromise anything at all to satiate its ravenous appetite.

Satisfying curiosity versus exploiting curiosity

The exploitation of curiosity is often seen in the marketing world. The best marketing principles are based on creating a curiosity gap among their audience. Once such a margin is created, the audience craves to satisfy their curiosity by making that purchase irrespective of the cost that incurs.

The most relatable example you can see are the headlines on some of the best articles. There are two kinds of headlines: clickbaity headlines and the ones that pique your curiosity. Clickbaity contents always fall short of our expectations and make us want to pull out our hair for clicking it in the first place. In contrast, genuine headlines with compelling content win the audience trust.

The headlines based on enough ‘curiosity gap’ tease their audience about what will come next — without giving everything away all at once. This intrigues readers like you and me to click the headline and know more about the topic. If the writer gives everything that they promised in their headline, they will have more fans. If they don’t, they lose. This is determined by how you and I feel as readers.

You will find this on all platforms on the internet. This is how the marketers make their living — through your insatiable curiosity. Many compelling marketing strategies are devised such that you cave in and satisfy this gratifying intellectual urge. As Tamora Pierce writes in Trickster’s Choice,

“Curiosity killed the cat,”
Fesgao remarked, his dark eyes unreadable. Aly rolled her eyes. Why did everyone say that to her? “People always forget the rest of the saying,” she complained.
“And satisfaction brought it back.”

Is curiosity influenced by our interests or is it randomly directed?

Earlier this week, I was reading a BBC report on the worsening COVID situation in India. I started with that one report and spiralled into four hours of non-stop search for more information. As and when I clicked more links, I felt an adrenaline high while I fed my starved brain with more new information. You too, may have experienced a similar euphoria when you reward yourself with new information about something that interests you.

Now, this is crucial: not necessarily everything will push your ‘curiosity’ button.

Last month when Oprah’s interview with Prince Harry and Megan Markle took the world by storm, I tried to learn more about what happened. But it turns out, I wasn’t curious enough. I couldn’t bring myself to keep reading any longer. My brain felt fried with just one article. It wasn’t because the topic isn’t interesting enough. It’s because it doesn’t interest me — doesn’t make me curious at all.

This can be better understood by Loewenstein’s theory of information gap. In this paper, he writes that our curiosity is driven by the need to know more about things that interest us. Look around yourself. You hold a lot of knowledge about so many things around you, but you don’t feel the urge to know more about everything. Certain elements gain more attention of yours, as compared to the others. It is such elements that keep you curious and aid your learning process.

Parting words

Giving in to your curiosity is like solving 1000 pieces jigsaw puzzle — where no piece makes sense on its own, yet one cannot do without the other. The previous piece is needed to proceed with the next one in the puzzle. The same is the case with curiosity. Your curiosity is built on the previous information we have and pushes you towards the unknown realm until you are satisfied.

However, you know better: that doesn't remain the case for long.

Stay curious.

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I am a scientist by profession and a historian by passion. I write about current affairs, history, science, and lifestyle.

Texas State
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