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Brain Spice

Curiosity - How Science Became Interested in Everything


There was a time when curiosity was condemned. To be curious was to delve into matters that didn't concern you - after all, the original sin stemmed from a desire for forbidden knowledge.

Through curiosity our innocence was lost. Yet this hasn't deterred us.

Today we spend vast sums trying to recreate the first instants of creation in particle accelerators, out of pure desire to know. There seems now to be no question too vast or too trivial to be ruled out of bounds: Why can fleas jump so high? What is gravity? What shape are clouds?

Today curiosity is no longer reviled, but celebrated. Curiosity examines how our inquisitive impulse first became sanctioned - when it changed from a vice to a virtue, and it became permissible to ask any and every question about the world. That was the age when modern science began, a time that spans the lives of Galileo and Isaac Newton. The so-called Scientific Revolution is often told as a story of great geniuses illuminating the world with flashes of inspiration. But Curiosity reveals a more complex story, in which the liberation - and the taming - of curiosity was linked to magic, religion, literature, travel, trade and empire.

By examining the rise of curiosity, we can ask what has become of it today: how it functions in science, how it is spun and packaged and sold, how well it is being sustained and honoured, and how the changing shape of science influences the kinds of questions it may ask.