The insatiable force of Curiosity

The fact that you are reading this epitomizes the insatiable force of Curiosity. It is the intangible emotion that you are experiencing right now. It is that same underestimated force that drives humanity’s discoveries and innovations — the very same ‘thing’ that forces you to the end of this sentence. To be exact, being curious about curiosity is called meta-curiosity.

“Ugh, don’t be so curious!” I was often told as a kid. Probably because I was getting on my parents’ nerves with my constant nosy questioning. “Don’t mingle with our grown-up business!” they said. It left me confused. Impatient parents have the harmful habit of killing off the precious gift of innocent curiosity, even before they have had the chance to use it to their full advantage.

How often do you see parents expressing their embarrassments through anger and annoyance? What have the happy toddlers done wrong by running around or throwing things on the ground, trying to get a grip on the laws of physics of this marvellous world that they are in? Shouldn’t you be proud that your kid has the curiosity of Einstein?

When I don’t understand something completely, I have a strong innate urge to find out more. I only started to realize this recently, but in hindsight that urge has always been with me. Where my classmates memorized multiplication tables or simple arithmetic rules, I questioned them. A lot. One time, my 4th grade teacher told me: “Marc, you are so curious!” My heart started pounding and I probably made a face like I did something terribly wrong. “But don’t worry,” he said. “It is a good thing.”

I was delighted to hear this. Finally, some positive reinforcement for my curiosity. This pat on the shoulder was enough to last a lifetime — I still remember it clearly today. I was lucky. Lucky that I wasn’t left alone to fight the innate forces that make us human. I was lucky that my parents were laissez-faire enough for my curiosity to develop. It is curiosity that defines me today.

Being curious about everything and anything led me to choose a diverse degree at university (Computer Science and Economics). A broad degree is curiosity’s best play ground. According to the curriculum, one is advised to specialize in their third year in either finance, marketing or logistics. I was curious about them all, so I took them all, for as long as time allowed and even audited completely unrelated classes. Even though I was falling in love with Operations Research in logistics, I was curious enough to give finance a serious try by choosing it as my Bachelor’s thesis topic. In hindsight, it was due to the latter that I landed myself an equity trading job in Hong Kong, which in turn satisfied my curiosity of living a glamorous investment banker’s life.

Sheer curiosity about my roots, the Chinese language, history and culture is what brought me to do a sabbatical at Tsinghua University, Beijing. Not only did I pick up a language spoken by a quarter of the world population — travelling off-the-beaten-track in China with a diverse group of curious people from all over the world was an enlightening experience.

Curiosity is also why I am in Toronto right now. My wife is Canadian and was one of those curious people I met in Beijing.

Those who have read my previous posts already know that it was due to a curious mind that I am now hooked on Common Lisp and coding. The same invisible force of curiosity also got me learning more about Tai-Chi, meditation, eastern and western philosophy, Chinese Traditional Medicine and physics. One of the most curiosity-satisfying book I ever read is ‘The Fabric of the Cosmos‘ by Brian Greene.

Where is curiosity taking me now? Vancouver. It has been touted ‘The most liveable city in the world‘ by the Economist for many years. What does that mean? That’s exactly the right question — I will move there in May 2012 and find out.

Curiosity does not kill the cat. It is impatient parenting or authoritarian teaching that kills curiosity. The only cat that is killed by curiosity is Schrodinger’s cat.


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