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Why?: What Makes Us Curious Hardcover – July 11, 2017
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-- Adam Riess, Nobel Prize Winner in Physics, 2011
"An energetic look at the psychology and neuroscience of our inquisitiveness." -- Dan Jones, Nature
“Filled with fascinating stories, tidbits, and psychological insights, Why? is a delightful romp through every aspect of human curiosity. It will surprise you, make you smarter, and put a spring in your step.” -- Steven Strogatz, Schurman Professor of Applied Mathematics, Cornell University, and author of The Joy of X
"A lively, expert, and definitely not dumbed-down account of why we're curious.", Kirkus Reviews
“It’s impossible to imagine creativity or invention without curiosity, and one could hardly ask for a richer or more engaging exploration of human curiosity than the one provided by Mario Livio in Why?. This book is an intellectual feast for any curious person." -- Jeffrey M. Schwartz MD, Research Psychiatrist UCLA, author of (with Sharon Begley) The Mind and the Brain and (with Rebecca Gladding) You are Not Your Brain
“Whether in science or art, curiosity is essential to progress—but what is it, exactly? Mixing historical narratives with interviews, and throwing in a dash of neuroscience, Mario Livio explores whether we are inquisitive because curiosity feels good in itself or because finding out something new removes an irritation. It can be both, he concludes, and different types of curiosity serve different purposes. Livio's book doesn't pretend to have all the answers, but it might well spur your own curiosity.”
-- David Lindley, author of Uncertainty: Einstein, Heisenberg, Bohr, and the Struggle for the Soul of Science, and Where Does the Weirdness Go: Why Quantum is Strange but Not as Strange as you Think
"This cogent book presents the scientific research on curiosity in understandable ways without too much jargon. It answers many (although not all) of our potential questions about curiosity—including what many originally believed killed the cat." -- Joseph Peschel, Science
"Lively. . . . Provocative.", USA Today
“In Why?, astrophysicist Mario Livio argues that humans are the only species to ask not just what, where or who, but also why. . . . [He} includes some fascinating tidbits along the way." -- Katherine Harmon Courage, The Washington Post
"Explores curiosity from a wide variety of angles and shows the author to be astute and 'curious about curiosity.' The book is well worth reading simply for the breadth of information about the subject, but also provides tips and cues readers may use to increase their own level of curiosity.”
-- Christopher M. Doran, New York Journal of Books
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Curiosity does not correlate extremely strongly with any other particular skill. Livio points out that two of the most curious people of all time, Leonardo da Vinci and Charles Darwin, were by their own admission not very mathematically gifted. On the other hand Einstein, Richard Feynman and Isaac Newton were mathematical prodigies.
One common thread that he points to is the ability to visualize a problem. Leonardo's curiosity arose out of his work as an artist. He wanted to depict the human body, water, waves and light accurately. To do so he pursued an insatiable curiosity about the factors that influence their appearance. Richard Feynman was not a skilled artist, but he was an inveterate doodler, renowned for his "Feynman diagrams" to explain what was going on in the world of subatomic particles.
A second common thread was that they were curious about everything. Feynman's colleague Murray Gell Mann was exasperated because Feynman would let himself go off on so many tangents that he seemed not to focus on his work. They make delightful reading in his biographies. He learned to play the frigadora so he could march in the carnival band in Rio de Janeiro. He learned how to crack safes so he could get his hands on classified documents when he was working on the Manhattan project. He taught himself and obscure Asian language, Tavu if memory serves, from the inaccessible heart of the Soviet Union simply because he was fascinated by the people and wanted to travel there.
This is the third book I have read on related themes just in the past couple of months. It is worth mentioning the other two because they are so unique. The Evolution of Beauty: How Darwin's Forgotten Theory of Mate Choice Shapes the Animal World - and Us talks about bird evolution, and then delves into human evolution through sexual selection. Sexual selection, in turn, was driven, as the title suggests, by our sense of beauty. In particular, women exercise a great deal of choice, it appears, in our evolution and their preferences may have led us to become artists, musicians, and ultimately to develop the power of speech.
The second one, even more closely related, is The Evolution of Imagination. Although neither author delves into the relationship, imagination and curiosity are intricately connected. Both authors talk about fMRI imaging to see what was going on in the brain. Both discuss psychological tests designed to tease out the brain functions behind imagination and curiosity, respectively. The author of the imagination book has some satisfying material on the evolutionary explanation of imagination.
I recommend all three books highly. Each of them has very useful insights into how we have evolved to be the way we are, how unique we are in the animal kingdom, and how recently we came into these magnificent faculties.
My first read was too hurried so I returned to feast more slowly in order to savor every word.