Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Wednesdays with Words: Curiosity vs. Studiousness

You know I love podcasts. I have been falling behind, though, as my dog walking time has shrunk and my listening time has lessened. There are some I make the effort to keep up with, say, in the grocery store or *gasp* vacuuming.

One of those is Your Morning Basket*, and yesterday's new episode on Memorization Techniques (YMB #24: A New/Old Look at Memory Work: A Conversation with Dr. Kevin Vost) offered much fodder for contemplation including this idea - not a direct quote, but close enough:

Curiosity is a vice while studiousness is a virtue.

In our culture, curiosity is generally lauded - a mind willing to learn and gather knowledge and information. Open to ideas and concepts. Yet the old maxims often denigrate curiosity: "Curiosity killed the cat." Why is this?

Dr. Vost indicated that curiosity indicated an undisciplined mind - one that is suceptible to every new idea. It is a mind that is taken off the track that one ought to be following, easily distracted by "every wind of doctrine".  Can curiosity lead us astray?

This stands in opposition to studiousness which is capable of sustained, deep thought. A mind that is capable of contemplating the ideas of the past and coming to deep conclusions about them.  The studious person is not easily distractable from the task or the study at hand. Can a habit of studiousness open our eyes?

This is not in opposition to the grand feast or generalization vs. specialization ... these are the ways we train our children to be studious by studying established ideas in many areas of study but allowing depth in areas that fit our child's gifts and talents.

If you're walking in a field and find a well in a particularly green glade of grass do you suppose the grass is green because of the overflow from the well, or was the well dug in that spot because it was obvious water would be found.  That metaphor has stuck with me as I teach my children.

The children have all taken piano lessons for a number of years. Two of them have a certain aptitude and gifting when it comes to music. One of them is like me.  We have allowed her to look for other places to dig while the other two have added an instrument.  They have become more studious with music.  She is trying other arts like drama and NaNoWriMo.

This isn't curiosity for the sake of curiosity or trivia. It isn't a dipping the mind into many all at once, rather a studious, intentional way of seeking what God has given to her. This is seeking after wisdom.

The irony, of course, is that this topic is not at all what the podcast episode was about. I latched onto a throw-off idea that was passed by quickly, but it has given me food for thought today and will in the days to come.  I'd like to try the memory technique - the memory palace - Pam and Dr. Vost discussed. That's going to take more practice and doing.

[*Nota bene: I am not an affiliate for Pam, but I do some VA work for her. If you purchase from her site, it benefits me and my children's music lesson fund.]


  1. Also ironically, one of the most googled posts in my Wednesday with Words series is "We Were Curious" from when we read Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH.

  2. Hmm...I feel like I want to argue with this but I don't listen to podcasts so I haven't heard the source material. Maybe I wouldn't be arguing at all. But I definitely do not agree with the statement that curiosity is a vice. Albert Einstein is supposed to have said: "Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every day. Never lose a holy curiosity." Another quote is his "I have no special talent, I am only passionately curious."

    Of course, he was a man and fallible (as we all are), but I find myself very much disagreeing with the semantics of "Curiosity is a vice".

    Great food for thought, though, and that is why I love Wednesdays with Words, Dawn!

    1. It struck me as odd, too, which is probably why I thought more about it. I suppose, like most anything, that if your curiosity leads to deeper study leading to glorifying God rather than flitting from idea to idea or simply seeking your own Trivial Pursuits and thus glory, there is a difference there in what curiosity means.

      But your quote that clarifies "holy curiosity" only makes me think that most people didn't think of it that way in past times - that he's redefining curiosity from something that is looked down upon and reframing it.

      I was pretty shocked when he said it, so I wanted to think through it a little and how it actually works in my life.

      So glad to have your participation and discussion - that's what I love about WwW, too!

  3. I had a similar reaction to Karen at first, but I also see the point he made. Studiousness could also become a vice if it becomes the be all and end all.

    1. While we deny the idea that the ends justify the means, in some cases they may help make the means clearer. If our curiosity and/or studiousness are for our own glory that's one thing; if they're for the glory of God, that's another.

  4. This struck a chord with me. I haven't listened to the podcast (yet) but if he is talking about older thinking on curiosity he is probably right. Pandora's box is basically a warning against curiosity. As I read older stories children are often shushed for asking questions and wanting to know "more than they should". To me, the Einstein quote sounded much more like wonder, awe and amazement to me than curiosity. Obviously he used the word curiosity but I think this use is a more current idea. In the 1828 dictionary curiosity focused more on novelty and fulfilling your own gratification to know. I can see how this can be a vice. Honestly as I post from a different book every week for this group I realize that I am not "sitting under" any of them well. That was sort of the essence of learning in older era's - studying under one person to become like them. I think this idea of the value of curiosity actually points to some real differences in approaches to learning and teaching from classical to modern. Curiosity can get us started pursuing a subject but if we don't ever dig deeper and become studious (and do some of the harder stuff) in a subject we have the famed "mile wide, inch deep" education. So this little quote gave me words for something I knew I was doing but couldn't really explain. For me, I do take curiosity too far and let it be my guide instead of other things. Now to use it in moderation - another classical virtue. Thanks for this great food for thought.


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