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Curiosity Depends on What You Already Know

Curiosity and evolution

From an evolutionary perspective, there’s good reason to keep looking, to be curious. Information helps us make better choices and adapt to a changing environment.

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IDEA EXTRACTED FROM:

Curiosity Depends on What You Already Know

Curiosity Depends on What You Already Know

http://nautil.us/issue/33/attraction/curiosity-depends-on-what-you-already-know

nautil.us

5

Key Ideas

The paradox of curiosity

Curiosity doesn’t seem to be tied to any specific reward.

It makes sense for organisms to seek food, water, sex, shelter, rest, wealth, or any of the other myriad nourishing and pleasant things in life. But what is the good of deducing the nature of gravity, or of going to the moon?

A simple answer is that we never know if what we learn today might come in handy tomorrow.

Curiosity as a probability algorithm

Scientists who study the mechanics of curiosity are finding that it is, at its core, a kind of probability algorithm—our brain’s continuous calculation of which path or action is likely to gain us the most knowledge in the least amount of time. Like the links on a Wikipedia page, curiosity builds upon itself, every question leading to the next. And as with a journey down the Wikipedia wormhole, where you start dictates where you might end up.

Curiosity is less about what you don’t know than about what you already do.

Boredom alone can’t fully explain curiosity

The old view is that curiosity and boredom are opposite ends of the same continuum.

The new view: bored is not to curious as hungry is to full or thirsty is slaked. Rather, boredom is a signal that you’re not making good use of a part of the brain. And there are antidotes to boredom besides curiosity.

The information gap

In a 1994 paper, Loewenstein theorized that curiosity’s direction is determined by the “information gap,” the sudden awareness of what you don’t know and the immediate desire to fill that gap.

But for the information gap to set its hook, though, it can’t be too big or too small - Curiosity peaks when subjects have a good guess about the answers, but aren’t quite sure.

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Curiosity leads us to generate alternatives
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When our curiosity is triggered, we are less likely to fall prey to confirmation bias (looking for information that supports our beliefs rather than for evidence suggesting we are ...

Curiosity and innovation

Encouraging people to be curious generates workplace improvements.

When we are curious, we view tough situations more creatively. Studies have found that curiosity is associated with less defensive reactions to stress and less aggressive reactions to provocation.

Reduced group conflict

Curiosity encourages members of a group to put themselves in one another’s shoes and take an interest in one another’s ideas rather than focus only on their own perspective.

Thus, conflicts are less heated, and groups achieve better results.

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Albert Einstein

"It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education. "

Albert Einstein
Curiosity declines with age

Children are extremely curious. They keep asking, "why?" and explore new things just because they want to know.

But research shows that during the schooling years, curiosity steadily declines, and as adults, we fall into fixed and convenient thought patterns.

The mechanics of curiosity

Research around curiosity found that children at age 5 scored 98% on a creativity test. When the same children took the test at age 10, only 30% scored well on the test. By age 15, only 12% of the same children did well. Less than 2% of adults are defined as creative based on their answer to this standardised test.

Science suggests this decrease in curiosity could be caused when we feel there's no gap between what we know and what we want to know, so we just stop being curious.

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The Importance Of Boredom

It drives us to engage in activities that we find more meaningful than those at hand. Without it, we’d be perpetually excited by everything.

Research shows that people who are bored...

Focus And The Brain

When we’re consciously doing things we’re using the “executive attention network, ” the parts of the brain that control and inhibit our attention. The attention network makes it possible for us to relate directly to the world presently around us.

By contrast, when our minds wander, we activate the brain’s “default mode network, ” which is the brain “at rest”; not focused on an external, goal-oriented task. In this mode, we still tap about 95% of the energy we use when our brains are engaged in focused thinking. 

Types Of Daydreaming
  • Poor attention control: when people with poor attention control drift into daydreaming. These people are anxious, easily distracted, and have difficulty concentrating, even on their daydreams.
  • Guilty-dysphoric: when our thoughts drift to unproductive and negative places. We berate ourselves for perceived mistakes or flaws and feel emotions like guilt, anxiety, and anger.
  • Positive-constructive: when our thoughts veer toward the imaginative; it reflects our drive to explore ideas and feelings, plan, and problem-solve. 

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