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In praise of curiosity

by gmax (Abbot)
on Jul 27, 2003 at 15:38 UTC ( #278232=perlmeditation: print w/ replies, xml ) Need Help??

[..] the great figure of the [creation] story is Eve. She is everything that I respect in a person: irrepressibly curious, courageous, undaunted by authority. Most of all, she is intent upon personal growth, determined to fulfill not just some but all of her promise.
Tom DeMarco -- Slack, 2002

The main virtues of Perl programming, as everybody should be aware of, are Laziness, Impatience, and Hubris. Larry Wall has explained all of them in the Camel Book, and I agree on the contribution that those habits bring to the completion of a programmer's task.

One virtue that has been neglected, at least in official books, is curiosity. As DeMarco notes, in Christian countries, curiosity is believed to be the mother of all vices, and people are encouraged to stick to the corpus of knowledge that has been officially blessed by some authority, be it the Church, the government or some academic big shot. Individual deviation from the universal laws of science is frown upon, and the ones who practice such unorthodoxy are fingered as "nosy."(*)

Yet every major advance in science and technology was the result of some rule being broken by somebody who didn't believe the limits set by the authorities. From Galileo to Einstein, we owe the improvement of our current knowledge to somebody who defied the common view.

However, I don't want to talk about heroic behavior. Even without facing the wrath of the Inquisition or the contempt of the established scientific community, curiosity is a valuable asset that tells a good programmer from a mediocre one.

Let me spend some words about my personal experience. Sorry if I appear to be self celebratory, but I should better start from something I am familiar with. I have worked in IT for 18 years, as a programmer first and then as a designer and analyst. I especially enjoyed my experience as a programmer, and I have created many applications and tools, each time building on past experience but always trying to improve what I did previously. People who know my programs and my occasional stunts 1 have said nice words about my works and have called me "guru," "wizard," "computer tamer," and similar appreciative names. When they compare me with my younger peers, they tend to agree on the concept that I have a better insight on the problems, and that my code is of fairly good quality. When such comments arise, there is always somebody who asks me "how did you learn that?"

That's a really good question. A difficult one, actually, given the general expectation of the questioner that I am going to disclose the truth about a legend that I attended some magic class where I learned how to spell computers into obedience. They are surprised, and somehow disappointed when I explain that most of my practical knowledge comes from curiosity.

So, how have I learned what I know? There was regular school, of course, but many of those who came out from the same classes that I attended don't seem to face problems the same way I do, and their code is not as rich as mine.

The difference, I explain to the skeptics, comes from my attitude towards life, and technology in particular. Whenever a subject appeals me, I want to know as much as possible about it, so I read voraciously books and articles, listen to talks, make experiments on my own, linking together what I am learning until every piece of information has its own place in the drawers of my brain. Books play an especially important role in this schema. I read reference manuals as if they were detective stories, while many of my colleagues just skim through them until they find what they need to solve today's problem and then forget about it. Sometimes, one of them asks "how do you do this and that?" and I point out at the solution in the very book that is gathering dust in front of them, and then they wonder how come I read about that thing, which I never used before and as far as they knew I was not going to need. Well, this is exactly the point, isn't it? Curiosity - scientific curiosity - is the ability of find interest in things that are not interesting yet. It is the same origin of social curiosity, when we get to talk about some idle subject that has nothing exciting. In the case of scientific curiosity, though, there is a second stage, when the the person links together all things learned, to transform trivia into valuable information.

Now I want to dispel the idea that I think of myself as a supernatural being who can turn water into wine. I am a professional analyst and developer who has learned the value of organized knowledge and I believe that my strength in problem solving activities lies in my ability to link together my previous knowledge to current facts. I also realize that it doesn't appear so easy to the untrained eye. Common users who struggle to find useful data in a spreadsheet will look at me in amazement when I type a formula with VLOOKUP or COUNTIF in it, or when I filter a huge text file with a Perl one-liner. I don't feel special at all, but I recognize that others look at me as if I were an alien, and I believe that the basic difference between my approach and theirs is just curiosity.

Also, I recognize immediately other people blessed by the same gift - this is one of the reasons why I like PerlMonks, BTW :) - and I tend to associate with them.

Curiosity alone is not enough to improve someone's skills. It must be associated with memory, so you can retain what you have seen, heard, and read. I found that the two things are related. You remember better things that interest you, while you forget - or don't pay attention altogether to - things that don't make you curious.

Therefore, curiosity is selective. You may be curious about statistics phenomena and feel totally indifferent to physics, or the other way around. But once you have gone through the motions of being "nosy" in a particular subject, you attack the next one with a well established strategy, and you manage to conquer the unexplored territory fairly quickly.

You may have noticed that I was talking in terms that sounded almost military - attack, conquer, strategy - and this gives me the start to talk about my early training in curiosity and memory. It began when I was 14. No, I didn't join the Army, but I learned chess, and for many years, beyond my study hours, I submitted my brain to the voluntary torture of playing blindfold chess and enjoying reading things like this one without the support of a chessboard 2.

1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Nf6 5.Qd3 e5 6.dxe5 Qa5+ 7.Bd2 Qxe5 8.O-O-O Nxe4 9.Qd8+ Kxd8 10.Bg5+ Kc7 11.Bd8# 1-0

This training in chess was a sort of mental gymnastics that put me into the habit of analyzing and thinking in an organized way. I discovered later that programming and chess analysis have something in common, the same frame of mind, but I will leave this for some other day. What I was about to point out is that, for the uninitiated, the above thing does not look any clearer than

perl -i.bak -ne 'next unless /(\d{5}+)$/ && $1 > 713 && $1 < 99930' *. +dat

Before I learned Perl, this code looked like line noise to me. Today I can read it and understand it, and I can also see at a glance that there is an error (see this node to know why). Non only that, but I read books, articles, and online discussions about these things, and I am sometimes even able to give advice. When I discovered Perl, I was curious about its brevity and effectiveness, and I wanted to explore it more thoroughly. Within a few weeks, I was slowly abandoning the C language as my favorite tool creator for system administration. One year later, I was using C only to do small maintenance of existing tools. Whenever that maintenance became too heavy, I rewrote the tool in Perl. It was much quicker and easier to maintain. So here I am, programming Perl to fulfill my curiosity 3. Which is not exhausted yet. I am still curious about new things and improved things. Even when people think I have nothing more to learn, I feel alive and kicking as long as I am still able to learn something new.

I have been thinking about this subject for a long time, and now I believe it is time to share my thoughts with more people who might recognize themselves in the same paradigm. Your contribution will be welcome 4.

Notes

(*) Update Most of the referred paragraph may sound as if I am quoting DeMarco verbatim. I would like to stress that I am just taking his initial point and extending it with my own words. Thanks to adrianh for pointing out the possible misunderstanding.
1 I got a reputation when I was in charge of - among other things - phone support, and I always managed to find the problem and give solutions on line. Lately, I was often asked to solve data migration tasks, and I used to answer with short "miraculous" Perl scripts.
2 I can see a faint smile from hsmyers, who must have recognized the above garbling for the much celebrated game between Reti and Tartakower, Vienna 1910. At the same time, I figure that a big question mark is popping on top of most any other monk.
3 Not to mention that it is also supporting me in my job.
4 Since I know that this might come up in the discussion, I'd better say that, although curiosity is the cornerstone of my knowledge system, I don't consider it an excuse for breaking into somebody else's computer. No offense intended to anybody. Just to set the record straight.

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Re: In praise of curiosity
by chunlou (Curate) on Jul 27, 2003 at 17:47 UTC

    There was this data entry person (not a programmer at all) whose task was manually sending some partially prewritten emails to customers daily. Then, he was told how to use MS Word mail merge feature to make his work easier.

    In order to use mail merge, one need to know how to use "table," how to "query" or "sort" data, etc--the basic SQL stuff actually. Out of curiosity and necessity, he learnt more and more about data manipulation. Yada, yada, a few months later, he became a DBA.

    On the opposite of the spectrum, some office workers often need to use spreadsheet to do stuff, which sometimes involved some very minor macro-like programming. Often some of them asked some techie people in the office for help, who might try to teach them how to do it themselves. Nonetheless, some of those workers's response might basically be, "please do it for me," and then walking away. No curiosity, no learning, no improved productivity.

    It is a good thing (or sometimes mixed blessing) that these days software spares people from having to memorize too much stuff with the help of text sensitive help, syntax high light, object explorer, etc. Vastly different from the punch card era the way people programmed in, say, Fortran. By and large, it's a good thing. It vastly increases the size of the programming community. So many "amateur" programmers these days, who contribute to the CS field and industry in a way impossible if done by academia alone. After all, Perl has been being developed by many "amateur," along with a score of other folks.

Curiousity, fueled by passion, and the ability to make connections
by skyknight (Hermit) on Jul 27, 2003 at 18:28 UTC

    Curiousity is indeed crucial to attaining the ability to wield a knowledge base effectively, but it's passion that fosters curiousity. One can't have the former without the latter. Passion is what separates the mediocre from the gurus. Middling tech people (or people in any field for that matter) are typically the ones that went into the field in search of a paycheck. Gurus, while perhaps more than happy to be paid well, are usually the ones who would have gone into the field for the love of the game, and would do it even if the pay was awful.

    You just can't get a respectable breadth and depth of knowledge in a subject that bores you. If the only thing that concerns you is getting today's job done, then that's the only thing you're going to know how to do. If you're going to tackle a problem, do it properly. Learn as much about the problem domain as you possibly can, and come up with best solution that you can muster. When you encounter the same kind of problems in the future, they will become increasingly effortless to overcome, instead of being something that you must painfully relearn.

    If there's just one thing that I remember my dear high school biology professor saying, time and time again, it's all about making connections. Don't get too hyper-focused on today's problem, and don't forget about the problems of yore. Bring everything you know to bear on a problem, assembling a solution from a diverse collection of knowledge, hard-won over the course of your entire life. Every problem you solve while at work (or play), and every technique you learn laying in your bed late at night reading some book, is a tool that you can strap to your belt, and bring with you into your daily life. It is the mark of a mediocre mind to let tools rust.

    BTW, I thought that Perl one liner looked awfully familiar. ;-)

Re: In praise of curiosity
by Abigail-II (Bishop) on Jul 27, 2003 at 19:43 UTC
    Yet every major advance in science and technology was the result of some rule being broken by somebody who didn't believe the limits set by the authorities.

    I strongly disagree with this. Could you please point out which limits or rules set by authorities were broken by Einstein, Newton, Archimedes, Euclid, Euler, Erdös, Von Neumann or Knuth, to name a few? Over the centuries, many scientists were directly or indirectly funded to do research, both practical and theoretical.

    Many technological and scientific advances came from curiosity. But that's surely not the only thing that make that make science and technology go forward. Luck, prestige, the need to solve a problem, the wish to make a buck, being observant, and hard work are important as well. Man didn't go to the moon because someone was curious about the big yellow thing in the sky and build a rocket. No, the main drive was prestige between countries, and funding by the the "authorities". Archimedes didn't came up with his buoyancy law because he was curious and breaking some rules - no, he had a "Eureka!" moment when trying to solve a problem for his king.

    And Galileo? Sure, he came head to head with the Roman church. But his revelation only came because he had a problem to solve: to explain his data.

    Abigail

      The limits these people broke were those of established knowledge. You don't have to put your life in danger to challenge authority. Just sustain a theory not in line with the mainstream, and you are going to face strong opposition from the ones who have been preaching the official lines for years and feel their authority shaken.

      Let's take Einstein's case. He wasn't even a professor. He didn't start from an academic strong point. When he published his first papers on his relativity theory, he was working as a clerk in a patent office in Switzerland. Before anyone acknowledged his view, he found in front of him a wall of opposition from all the physicists who wanted to stick to Newton's officially accepted theories. Isn't this challenging authority?

      True, it isn't always that dramatic. Sometimes you have just to defy common knowledge to come up with your solutions. Archimedes wasn't challenging any authorities, but Galileo definitely was. He was very well aware that, by defending his theory of earth motion, he was contradicting the Church official line, and as such he could be charged with blasphemy and heresy. He was tried for that, actually, and he had to make a public denial of his theory, under threat of death penalty. The important thing to note here was that many scientists of his period didn't even take into account the possibility of contradicting the Bible. Galileo's first challenge wasn't against the Church but against fear of challenging what in those days was believed to be common sense.

      Anyway, I may have used too strong words to explain my point, but the bottom line is that scientific curiosity is going to challenge something established, be it a tangible authority or a widespread belief. The rule being broken can be as strong as a prohibition to say something contrary to the government or as trivial as going against common sense.

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        Let's take Einstein's case. He wasn't even a professor. He didn't start from an academic strong point. When he published his first papers on his relativity theory, he was working as a clerk in a patent office in Switzerland. Before anyone acknowledged his view, he found in front of him a wall of opposition from all the physicists who wanted to stick to Newton's officially accepted theories. Isn't this challenging authority?

        Sadly, it seems that many science branches did this error: another one I recall was A.Avogadro, who faced a strong resistence to his theories by his colleagues. It took years before that the chemicals of that time to accept the evidence of his results.

        This is an excerpt from a page devoted to Avogadro:

        In order to understand the contribution that Avogadro made, we must consider some of the ideas being developed at this time. Chemistry was just beginning to become an exact science. The Law of Definite Proportions and the Law of Multiple Proportions were well accepted by 1808, at which time John Dalton published his New System of Chemical Philosophy.

        Dalton proposed that the atoms of each element had a characteristic atomic weight, and that it was atoms that were the combining units in chemical reactions. Dalton had no method of measuring atomic weights unambiguously, so made the incorrect assumption that in the most common compound between two elements, there was one atom of each.

        . . .

        In 1811, Avogadro published an article in Journal de physique that clearly drew the distinction between the molecule and the atom. He pointed out that Dalton had confused the concepts of atoms and molecules. The "atoms" of nitrogen and oxygen are in reality "molecules" containing two atoms each. Thus two molecules of hydrogen can combine with one molecule of oxygen to produce two molecules of water.

        . . .

        The work of Avogadro was almost completely neglected until it was forcefully presented by Stanislao Cannizarro at the Karlsruhe Conference in 1860. ... The reason for the earlier neglect of Avogadro's work was probably the deeply rooted conviction that chemical combination occurred by virtue of an affinity between unlike elements. ... The idea that two identical atoms of hydrogen might combine into the compound molecular hydrogen was abhorrent to the chemical philosophy of the early nineteenth century.

        Surely, the "rule being broken" is such a brake to knowledge and research in general. Anyway, thanks for clarifying your thoughts. I was sure you simply picked the wrong example :-)

        Ciao!
        --bronto


        The very nature of Perl to be like natural language--inconsistant and full of dwim and special cases--makes it impossible to know it all without simply memorizing the documentation (which is not complete or totally correct anyway).
        --John M. Dlugosz


      Man didn't go to the moon because someone was curious about the big yellow thing in the sky and build a rocket. No, the main drive was prestige between countries, and funding by the the "authorities".
      Ech -- that's why the funding showed up, sure. Money could explain plenty, even perhaps why scientists were designing and mission controllers were expending such great effort. They didn't want to lose their jobs, or they had a nice steady income, or they wanted the (relative) prestige that comes with working somewhere like that.

      You might even argue that some of the first few humans who went up in space vehicles did so because they were motivated by prestige. It could be argued, but I wouldn't believe it. People have a tendency to look for easy jobs if all they care about is the money, and it's a hell of a lot easier for them to stay right on the nice safe ground instead of getting in that odd-looking thing with the "controlled" detonation device on the rear end. There's plenty of research that you can do right here on Earth, and there's plenty of extremely delicate instruments you could ship to the Moon for getting data with. The reason the money showed up was prestige, and the reason the scientific community went with it could perhaps be the same.

      Maybe some went up for the sake of prestige, but I find it hard to believe that nobody, not one single astronaut, willingly climbed into something that would very well kill them except for one thing: They wanted to see the Earth as no one else had, and the Moon beneath their feet.

      There's not any one thing that makes a scientific advancement, but these curious people have to be around, or else you don't find truly obtuse techniques. They have to do crazy things, sometimes at great personal risk, or else there's 'regular' or even slow progress.

      Besides, if someone's funded to do research, it doesn't mean that they're not curious. It means they got lucky, that the local economy either valued the specific thing they were researching or, for whatever reason, valued scientific research as its own goal. (Rare, sure, but it happens.) If a scientist gets paid to research something they don't care about, sometimes they end up putting the funds towards their research in something they do care about.

      -----------------------
      You are what you think.

        Personally, I see it as a military motivation ... not the scientists but Kennedy and the politicians who approved the funding. If you can get your weapons to a high place, all you have to do is let go and watch them fall on people. And if you can get a camera higher than a U2 can go, you can see anything you want.

        --
        TTTATCGGTCGTTATATAGATGTTTGCA

Re: In praise of curiosity
by chromatic (Archbishop) on Jul 27, 2003 at 21:22 UTC
    As DeMarco notes, in Christian countries, curiosity is believed to be the mother of all vices, and people are encouraged to stick to the corpus of knowledge that has been officially blessed by some authority, be it the Church, the government or some academic big shot. Individual deviation from the universal laws of science is frown upon, and the ones who practice such unorthodoxy are fingered as "nosy."

    Sorry, I studied a bit of history and am going to need lots more references for this. If you want to suggest that Roman Catholicism clamped down on science and discovery around the time of the Enlightenment, that's one thing, but DeMarco's painting with a *really* broad brush.

    You could make the same argument better without such a questionable interpretation.

      I apologize for sounding too dogmatic. It was not what I was aiming at. I wasn't trying at teach history, but I was referring at the general acceptance of curiosity as a "bad thing," which is so deeply radicated inside our language that even in everyday speaking we refer to it in a negative way.

      • Curiosity killed the cat -- excessive curiosity can lead one into trouble. A common rebuke by mothers to their offspring
        -- The Penguin Dictionary of English Idioms
      • Too much curiosity lost Paradise
        It doesn't do to be too curious or inquisitive
        -- The MacMillan Dictionary of English Proverbs Explained
      • Curiosity killed the cat -- informal Getting too nosy may lead a person into trouble
        -- Barrons Handbook of Commonly Used American Idioms

      See also, in the same vein, Why does curiosity kill?, where there are also some more interesting quotes:

      • The “Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs and Sayings” (1996) by Gregory Titelman states: “An overly inquisitive person is likely to get hurt."
      • Saint Augustine recorded in ‘Confessions’ (397) the story of a curious soul who wondered what God did in the eons before creating heaven and earth. ‘He fashioned hell for the inquisitive,’
      • in the nineteenth century, Lord Byron in ‘Don Juan’ (1818) roundly condemned the curious with ‘I loathe that low vice curiosity.’

      Please notice that it's not my intention to throw mud at the Church or any other authority. I am just commenting on the social aspect of this concept.

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        If it's quotations you're after:

        "Disinterested intellectual curiosity is the life-blood of real civilisation"
        - G. M. Trevelyan

        "A generous and elevated mind is distinguished by nothing more certainly than an eminent degree of curiosity
        - Samuel Johnson

        And, if we want to get all Biblical:

        "Be not ignorant of any thing in a great matter or a small"
        - Ecclesiasticus chapter 5, verse 15.

        (and me an atheist too :-)

        I'm afraid the religious overtones turned me off of reading an otherwise apparently well thought out node.
        Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.
        — Acts 17:11
        Questioning and researching is an integral part of faith according to the bible.

        Makeshifts last the longest.

      You could make the same argument better without such a questionable interpretation

      I agree but, to be fair, all DeMarco says is:

      In spite of years of parochial schooling, I have come away with a view of the creation story that differs somewhat from what the nuns must have hoped. In my view, the great heroic figure of the story is Eve. She is everything that I respect in a person: irrepressibly curious, courageous, undaunted by authority. Most of all, she is intent upon personal growth, determined to fulfill not just some but all of her promise.

      Remember the story of her "fall." She was told that she might eat of everything in the garden except one thing: She could not eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. The fruit of this tree was not food at all, but understanding. if she ate it, she would know things that she was not intended to know, hence the proscription.

      Eve's response to this rule was, essentially, "No way, José." She was not about to allow her growth as a person to be so limited, She ate the fruit and took the consequences. I hope I would have been so brave in her place.

      No generalisations about Christianity made.

      Indeed. Nowhere in scripture is curiosity painted as a "vice". Curiosity is often the precursor to personal discovery, and Christians are instructed by Paul to "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling", which was Paul's way of saying that your own salvation experience will be different than someone else's ... the Church cannot and should not dictate to believers what salvation "feels like".

      However, Christians are also admonished to obey the authorities which are placed over them, since no one comes into authority except by the will of Christ (yes, that includes Hussein and Hitler and Nero and all the rest ... )

      Here one must make the distinction between "curiosity" and "rebellion".

Re: In praise of curiosity
by BrowserUk (Pope) on Jul 28, 2003 at 01:55 UTC

    Aged 13, I had an English teacher who was a product of the late 60's hippy movement, complete with open toed sandals and no socks in a school predominantly populated by wool suits and flowing black gowns. As has become painfully obvious, I didn't learn much English, but he did impart one lesson that I carry with me to this day in vivid mental relief.

    He started off by asking the class to write a piece of prose on any subject we liked, and gave us half an hour to do it. We then had to read our efforts aloud. Most everyone complained bitterly that we had not had enough time, but we had to read anyway. And most everyone had produced a few lines of bad rhythms. Some had regurgitated popular schoolyard limericks, but despite risque content and the sniggering, had to read them anyway. Some had taken the task relatively seriously. We had one effort entitled "The Saturday Game" which included the immortal and much discussed rhythm, "...love football." with "...don't we all". Another entitled "I like my bike". Of course, the first lesson we had to learn, was that prose was not poetry.

    The teacher then related a story of a child at his last school that had written a poem that had gone on to win some national award. He recited the poem to an initially rowdy, but gradually more rapt and finally silent audience. I wish that I could remember it sufficiently well to reproduce it here, but it was a long time ago. What has stuck with me is the flavour.

    It started out describing how new-born babies are curious and awe-ridden. Everything they see, hear, feel and taste excites them, intrigues them and involves them. At first it is only the brightly coloured objects and simple sounds within their field of reach. Slowly, as their eyes and legs become more adept, they venture further a field. The adventure continues and as their years grow so does their wonder and amazement at the world. Even by the age of four or five, they are still as likely to find the wrapping paper and carton in which they receive birthday & christmas gifts as fascinating as the gift itself. This happy state often continues through their first and second schools. Lessons are a minor and temporary interruption from their worlds of play and fantasy; fun and wonder. Eventually, they reach that age where they move up to serious school (around 11 in the UK. Other countries probably vary).

    Then their world changes. Homework, tests and exams creep in. Syllabuses, timetables, and grade points takeover. They are taken daily to dull-lit rooms with dull grey walls, made to sit at dull brown desks and write on dull white paper in drab blue-black ink. Listen to dull monotone drones, from dull monotone teachers telling them of dull historical events, or dull mathematical formulae which they must commit to their dulled minds in dull rote fashion. After five years, they have become dull citizens of a dull world.

    Three months later, the day before he was to have received his prize, he committed suicide. He was aged 11.

    The teacher drew no conclusions; offered no comment beyond:

    Never take what I say as read. Always question me. Don't expect me to always have the answers. Never loose your sense of curiosity, awe and wonder. Use it. Cultivate it. Look for it in everything you do, because if you lose it, it will never return, and the system will have won another victim.

    Don't be a victim.


    Examine what is said, not who speaks.
    "Efficiency is intelligent laziness." -David Dunham
    "When I'm working on a problem, I never think about beauty. I think only how to solve the problem. But when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong." -Richard Buckminster Fuller

      I found the British school system works to raise the average performance of the students at the expense of flexibility and leaving little room for the talented to explore, whereas the US system tends to perform not as well on average but its brightest students are really bright. The contrast could be seen in the International Math Olympia.

      The future of the students seem to be preordained very early on in the British system.

        Curiously, I found the opposite (although the UK system is rapidly approaching the US system now). I still find it hard to believe that so much weight is attached to SAT and GRE scores.

Re: In praise of curiosity
by dws (Chancellor) on Jul 28, 2003 at 05:05 UTC
    Curiosity is a strange thing. Thousands of generations of evolution have both selected for it and selected against it. On one hand, our ancestors weren't the ones who heard rustling in the grass outside of their cave and thought "I wonder what that is. Let's go see..." On the other hand, the ones to figure out tools gained a quick advantage. That puts us in an odd position: Many of our projects are these great hairy unknown things with lots of rustling in the grass, yet we have some neat tools.

      Perhaps you're confusing curiosity with foolhardiness? I imagine someone once said "I wonder what that is. Hey Ogg, go have a look..." Today we have co-op students who serve a similar purpose ;-).

      --
      I'd like to be able to assign to an luser

No conflict [Re: In praise of curiosity]
by bronto (Priest) on Jul 28, 2003 at 12:10 UTC

    Dear gmax

    I know you by person, and I sincerely admire you as a programmer and as a DBA. But, first of all, I admire you for what the person you are and for your intelligence. That's why I am sure that what you wrote comes from a thorough meditation and anynothing else.

    Ok, this could well be OT, but I have to disagree with you for this phrase:

    in Christian countries, curiosity is believed to be the mother of all vices, and people are encouraged to stick to the corpus of knowledge that has been officially blessed by some authority

    As a Catholic, hence Christian, I have to, partially, disagree. There are parts of our religion that are dogmatic, and certain parts that are not subject to private interpretation; that's the true part of your assertion. But there is a lot you have to discover, to understand, and to live. That's something that takes all of your life. And curiosity is a need; curiosity and open-mindness, since your research never stops, even on those things that you think you definitely understand.

    I am Catholic, I am curious. And the two things aren't in conflict.

    Con immutata stima
    --bronto

    Update: When will I learn to write a decent english? :-)


    The very nature of Perl to be like natural language--inconsistant and full of dwim and special cases--makes it impossible to know it all without simply memorizing the documentation (which is not complete or totally correct anyway).
    --John M. Dlugosz

      It seems to me that you are just agreeing with gmax.

      He is not saying that Catholics can't be curious, but rather that in Catholic influenced culture there is a strong social belief against curiosity.

      So he says to go over the social convention and be curious nonetheless.

      I don't see any reason for a religious dispute.

      Read again his answer to chromatic.

Re: In praise of curiosity
by Anonymous Monk on Jul 29, 2003 at 13:47 UTC
    Eve was not irrepressibly curious, courageous, or undaunted by authority. She was a weak minded individual who was tricked into doing something that SHE KNEW that she was not suppposed to do. Even if you wanted to look at it that way, what did all her efforts get her? Banished from paradise and a nice little curse placed on every single human life to follow. I appreciate the commentary on curiosity, but you can't build an argument on facts that don't exist. There is no documentation anywhere to support Eve's courageous, irrepressibly curious nature.
Re: In praise of curiosity
by BrowserUk (Pope) on Aug 02, 2003 at 01:10 UTC

    I was just reading NewScientist and came across a story that reminded me of some of the "contrary to current scientific thinking" discussion that took place in this thread.

    I won't recount the story as you can read it here for yourselves, but it looks like we are going to have one of those rare opportunities to see if new ideas (albeit based upon old wisdom) proove themselves better than current scientific wisdom.

    With my extremely limited physics I have no way to conclude who is right, but if I had to bet (or rather, if I could get someone to give me decent odds:), I'd have to go for Gold purely on the basis of the Crookes radiometer evidence.


    Examine what is said, not who speaks.
    "Efficiency is intelligent laziness." -David Dunham
    "When I'm working on a problem, I never think about beauty. I think only how to solve the problem. But when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong." -Richard Buckminster Fuller
    If I understand your problem, I can solve it! Of course, the same can be said for you.

      You'd lose that bet I'm afraid.

      While there haven't been any solar sails used for propulsion the effect has been measured in the lab (way back in 1901). In fact it's something that has to be taken into account in existing interplanetary flights. The light pressure on solar panels, etc. is enough to have a measurable effect.

      Crook's radiometer isn't an example of light pressure. This has been known since 1879 (see this comprehensive explanation for more info). I am more than mildly surprised that Gold is in ignorance of this since I was told about this in school!

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