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Thursday, 18 May 2017

Human curiosity (1)

I was wrong to classify curiosity before consciousness, self-awareness, thinking and beliefs in yesterday's blog. Curiosity is a complex field of scientific study, and especially human curiosity. We must separate external (or perceptual) curiosity from internal (or epistemic) curiosity. Humans have both, animals only the 1st one. It's a tough question: Why are we curious?

External curiosity either relates to a sense of Fear or a Risk/Reward bonus (e.g., food, sex). Internal human curiosity relates to the Why question. On the surface, internal curiosity appears to be inefficient and a waste of time from an evolutionary point of view. The benefits of internal curiosity may be long-term or even non-existent. So, why are we curious anyway?

All life-forms are geared towards survival and consciously adapting to external threats. External curiosity is found in many animals and all humans. Self-awareness is restricted to humans and to certain animals. Inner curiosity is probably restricted to humans and is also closely related to human thinking. Human beliefs follow human thinking.

Hence, this appears to be the evolutionary sequence in Life: consciousness (all), external curiosity (many animals, all humans), self-awareness (certain animals, all humans), internal curiosity (humans), thinking (humans), and beliefs (humans). My 3 March 2017 blog also mentions another related piece of the evolutionary puzzle: boredom.

A 2014 BBC article states that boredom triggers curiosity. External curiosity typically results in risky habits with negative health consequences (e.g., smoking, drinking, taking drugs). The reward is a temporary feeling of satisfaction. Repeating these habits, in order to maintain these moments of satisfaction, may develop into an addiction.

Internal curiosity typically results in positive features like creativity and imagination (BBC). Hence, I concluded that Boredom (Time related) and Curiosity (Space related) appear to fill the transitional vacuum between the layers of my Needs, Wants & Beliefs concept, and ultimately also between Beliefs and extreme beliefs.

Internal curiosity is likely to require a much bigger brain in order to facilitate the explosion in the number of “computations”. You need to hold certain information (eg, ideas) while adding new and subtracting old information. The default animal and early human brain could not support that. The evolutionary success of creativity and imagination has always supported the more advanced species. That process of natural selection should however still be ongoing.

The human fear of competitive species is evidenced by our external curiosity in extraterrestrial life (e.g., SETI) as well as our internal curiosity (e.g., Fermi paradox). Both imply that we are conscious about the potential threat that aliens may constitute to the human species. Our imagination has resulted in many Science-Fiction movies, mostly rooted in Fear.

The impact of human curiosity is well-illustrated by the excellent documentary The Mind of the Universe, hosted by Prof. Robbert Dijkgraaf. At the end of episode 2, he quotes Imam Ali (599-661 AD): “Knowledge is Power and it can command obedience. A man of knowledge during his lifetime can make people obey and follow him and he is praised and venerated after his death. Remember that knowledge is a ruler and wealth is its subject.”

It's hard to answer why humans are curious, even for myself and I'm a very curious person. I use external curiosity (eg, news) to trigger internal curiosity (the Why question). I just love to understand things. Understanding brings a kind of “satisfaction”. Perhaps my “satisfaction” used to relate to Knowledge, Power and Wealth. Today, it's about Wisdom which lies in between the Knowledge and Power domains - and thus the center - of the 7 Belief systems.

Down to Earth (1987) by Curiosity Killed the Cat - artists, lyrics, video, Wiki