Collected here below are the Practices and Exercises that are in the Curiosity pages.
Printouts: Separating Out Knowns and Unknowns
Practicing curiosity with our own views:
Widening Certainty and Mystery Thresholds
Consider how this diagram may be different for you depending upon different topics. What does your curiosity curve look like, and where are your thresholds, for the following topics?
- Having conversations with strangers at a social gathering – do you approach people you don’t know, or do you only talk to people you already have a connection with?
- Walking around a hardware store – what aisles make sense to you? Which aisles do you want to know more about?
- Thinking about the outcomes of the last presidential election – was the result from many causes or a single cause?
- What sort of activities make a person more or less likely to get COVID-19? – How much does each mitigation measure help? Do some government suggestions seem to never make sense?
For example – Imagine that I am walking around a used bookshop. I wander around, and, as I always do, I find myself in the science fiction section.
My ‘certainties’: I might feel certain that I enjoy books having to do with aliens and space, preferably those that are written before 1980. I also feel that I like short story collections.
My ‘mysteries’: I haven’t read any science fiction books that are in the cyberpunk genre or books that have to do with virtual reality. I’ve seen them on the bookstore shelves many times though, but am skeptical.
Widening the thresholds: On the certainty end, I can see if I can start exploring some more modern science fiction books. Since I know I like short story collections, maybe I can find one that came out in the 1990s and see if I like it. I can become more uncertain that I know exactly what I like.
On the mystery end, I can start looking into the cyberpunk genre, but maybe I want to be more certain that the first book I read will be well-written, so I look for online reviews about the best book in this genre, and buy that book.
Inviting in Doubt
There are many ideas that we hold very close to ourselves, and hold with certainty that they are true. What would it take to invite doubt into those ideas? You don’t need to believe your doubts of course, but sometimes it is helpful to imagine what it would take to disbelieve what we think is true.
For example, let’s say you think that creating lawns of green grass in front of your yard is bad for the environment. Here are a few ways that doubt would be invited in if these ideas were true:
- Lawns create a different sort of ecosystem for animals. Are they helping any animals that would otherwise be going extinct?
- Do people who create lawns in their yards also plant trees? Would this cancel out the damage that lawns cause?
- People often remove existing plants in favor of a grass lawn. If a lawn captured more carbon than natural plants and stayed around for a long time, then creating a lawn could decrease the amount of carbon in the atmosphere.
Perhaps some of these ideas are true, and some of them are false. Creating possibilities to chip away at the armor of certainty will invite doubt, and then further, exploration.
Try this with a few ideas of your own, perhaps starting with the ideas below:
- Are you politically liberal or conservative? Is there a cause that, were it taken up by the other side, you might consider voting for them instead?
- Cigarettes seem bad for you. What would need to be true health-wise to make this less certain? Are there potential benefits to smoking that could make it more worthwhile?
Examining Your Beliefs
Examining what you believe and thinking about what might make it valid or invalid is a valuable way to explore your orientation to truth. In each of the following areas, reflect upon what you believe to be true, and then decide what evidence, if it existed, might change your mind.
- What place does art education have in public schools? What is evidence that could drastically change your mind?
- Would it be worthwhile if countries had open borders? What is evidence that could drastically change your mind?
- Is it ‘ok’ to eat animals? What is evidence that could drastically change your mind?
If you enjoyed this, try applying this idea to any range of controversial issues, like this list on Wikipedia.
Overcoming a Sense of Wrongness
Briefly read the following example claims:
- Claim #1: Death is a bad thing, and humans should try to find ways to live for hundreds of years.
- Claim #2: Some prescription drugs can be taken safely in the correct dosages. Let’s make many of them over-the-counter at pharmacies and simply give consumers detailed instructions.
- Claim #3: Religious institutions are like companies – they have customers and generate income. This means that they ought to be taxed like for-profit companies as well.
Depending upon your intuitions, you may feel more or less strongly about certain claims. Choose one that seems especially salient to you.
Try reflecting that “There’s nothing wrong here.” Or, “Give up that there’s something wrong here.”
Notice how you feel, and, afterward
Examine why you may be feeling this way. How does the claim interact with your values and your past? What are you still uncertain about?
As an example: Perhaps some people from the city government come to my door and suggest that, for safety reasons, they would like to cut down two of the trees in my front yard. I immediately feel that this is the wrong thing to do.
So let’s take the second step – giving up that there is something wrong here.
Afterward, I might reflect on why I experienced a sense of wrongness. Perhaps I really enjoy the trees in my front hard and don’t want them to go away. Perhaps I connect my trees with a sense of environmentalism and contribution. Or perhaps I don’t think that the people from the city government are correct about the safety of my particular trees.
Making an Identity Web
Make an identity web! Using a piece of paper and a pen, write your name in the center and then write certain descriptors and ‘labels’ along the edges. Afterward, take a look at different descriptors and reflect upon the following questions:
- Mark the parts of your identity that you consider most important. How do you prioritize maintaining those parts of your identity?
- If I no longer viewed myself like this, how would my view of myself change?
- If someone else did not see me like this, what do I think that they would be missing?
- Which descriptors are you open to having change, and which descriptors are you averse to having change?
Find a conversation partner, and pick one of the following topics. Try using some of the tools listed above when they feel appropriate.
- Should the U.N. have a standing army?
- Should [insert your country here] have Compulsory voting?
- Should maternity and paternity leaves be equal?
- Should prospective parents be able to select aesthetic traits in their children such as freckles, or the color of the child’s hair?
Practicing curiosity about the external world:
Exploring Various Topics
Pick one of the following topics, and allow your curiosity to take you away!
- On an island in Scotland, some sheep have adapted to only eating seaweed.
- Since the invention of nuclear weapons, there have been over fifteen nuclear war close calls that have involved everything from training accidents, solar flares, and clumsy miscommunications.
- If your mother or father has a particular profession, how likely are you to also have that profession?
Want to start exploring something? Wikipedia has a way to access a random article – just click here
Trying Out Less Conventional Beliefs
Practicing dare sometimes involves radically challenging your own beliefs about yourself and about the world. So let’s try it out! Take a look at the following views, identify three that you find strange/uncomfortable/disagreeable/surprising/icky. This will be different for everyone!
To Prevent Crime, Cameras Should be on Most Street Corners
The Voting Age Should be Lowered to 15
Free STD Testing Should be Available in High Schools
Some Books Have Dangerous Ideas and Should be Banned
Video Games are a Sport and a Valuable Form of Art
Men and Women Should Have Different Roles in a Romantic Partnership
You Plan to Freeze Your Body After You Die, Hoping to Be Revived Someday
Opera is a Beautiful and Unsurpassed Artform
Parking Tickets Should be Scaled According to Income
Piloting a Small Biplane Gives an Amazing Sense of Calm and Freedom
Climate Change Doesn’t Matter
Never Having Children is a Wonderful Lifestyle
All of these views are held by some people in the world. Now that you’ve selected a few views, pick one of them individually. Imagine that you hold this view – that you think it is correct/right/good/valuable/interesting.
- How would this change your outlook on life?
- What sort of activities would you do that are different from what you do now?
- What other views might you also have if you have this one?
Next, explore the other two views you picked out before. Hopefully, by exploring a few viewpoints you can broaden your sense of what sort of thoughts are possible, even if you don’t agree with them.
Having a sense of wonder often involves viewing the familiar as unfamiliar, or seeing something from a different perspective. To practice this, let’s try going on a ‘Wikipedia Walk’. Take one of the following topics on Wikipedia, perhaps one that you are unfamiliar with:
Next, browse the topic for a little bit, and click on another interesting topic. Do this three more times and see where you end up, and how different topics are connected together!
Freedom To and Freedom From
Freedom to own weapons?
Freedom from living in a society with citizens carrying firearms?
Giving others the freedom to live a productive life without the temptation of addictive drugs?
Freedom from government regulations and imprisonment due to drug possession?
Freedom to speak your mind, no matter the content?
Freedom from hearing another person’s hurtful language?
It would seem that championing the idea of freedom has been taken up by people with very different points of view – so how can the ideology of freedom still serve us? One way forward would be to clearly define for yourself what the idea of freedom means, a historically difficult task. If you are willing to complicate the idea of freedom, different questions might be asked:
- Freedom to and/or freedom from?
- Freedom for whom?
- When would other values outshine freedom?
- What are examples of more freedom having negative consequences?
For example, let’s imagine that we valued freedom in the choice of school for our child. How would we answer the questions above?
- Freedom To and Freedom From: I might consider this a freedom to choose a school for my child to attend, and a freedom from the state government, local government, or my family from influencing my decision.
- Freedom for Whom: This would be a freedom for me to make a decision, and a freedom for other people to make a decision as well. This might become complicated when we consider that some children’s parents might be less able to send their children to a school that is far away or costs more money to attend. We might think about how freedom is easier or harder for certain people.
- When Would Other Values Outshine this Freedom: This is more difficult. I might value other things as well, like fairness for all children to have an equitable education, the average value of education for my community, or the amount of funding that schools are able to receive. These other values might sometimes conflict with my idea of freedom to choose a school for my child, and I’ll need to make tradeoffs.
- Examples of When More Freedom Could Have Negative Consequences: The stronger I hold my view, the harder it may be for me to imagine negative consequences of it. Perhaps freedom for my child wouldn’t cause any harm, but many parents having freedom might cause them to choose schools that are a poor fit for their child. Maybe some parents will value other ideas besides education, and instead send their children to schools that have less diverse populations, have attractive advertising, or send their child to a school where they will socially struggle.
Try this out for yourself! Use the idea freedom and the questions above to think about the following topics:
The ‘I Wonder…’ Game
There is so much in the world to be curious about! Find a friend, partner, or child, sit or lie on the floor and play the ‘I wonder…’ game. Each person says a sentence that starts with ‘I wonder’, followed by something about their own life, the world, or the universe