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cultivating self-enhancive curiosity
december 5, 2010


A child is all at once each day, having something like an essential character of enactive growing—like a “natural goodness” (philosopher Philippa Foot might say)—difficult to render briefly without trOpical density.

Our human (inborn, “innate”) interest in self expansion is expressed in, first, rapt fascination, which becomes focal curiosity, empowering individuation. Curiosity fuels itself, like a pleasure creating later want of that pleasure again (but development leads to broadened senses of appeal, built through seeking novelty and exploration). Rapt attention (which is focal) enables sustainable curiosity of oneSelf (intrinsic interest in appeals) that builds and broadens interest. In that sense, growth of self interest is reflective of oneSelf in appeals (recursive-like, generative), expressing a self-expansive interest in growth. Later astuteness of perception expresses grown capability for finding challenging opportunities (or promising-problem finding) which is necessary for any liklihood of insightfulness or significant realization. Constructive learning, relationship, and fulfillment “happen” through deliberate seeking to learn, relate, and gain fulfillment. Durable meaning is made through enjoying sustained engagement that begins in curiosity.

Researchers come along to parse curiosity into kinds, i.e., “stable tendencies to experience or express curiosity” (ref. 2: 369), an endeavor which perversely delights me. There is “lower-order” curiosity, researched in terms of specific traits or states (“trait curiosity”), such as sensory curiosity (manifold wanting to “feel” in the most basic sense—which is not an especially “emotional” interest in “feeling,” by the way); perceptual curiosity (which is valuative or gives significance to sensory feeling—or anything else experienced, such as fantasies); or “levels of novelty-seeking and exploration,” like, say, ingesting toys or imprudently climbing a tree. Complementing lower-order curiosity is “global, higher-order traits/states,” typically showing “openness to experience and sensation-seeking,” like going to sea—especially in a figurative sense, such as eating great poetry or intently-focal conceptual adventuring. (You see my difficulty with self restraint in the face of empiricist “research”).

In this regard, what I’ll call epistemic curiosity is especially apposite. The researchers on curiosity (whom I quoted earlier), like C&F, want to understand the complex stance of curiosity as an “emotion”: “...we could place curiosity and interest within the category of ‘knowledge emotions,’” a category suggested by other researchers for “emotions associated with learning and thinking, such as interest, surprise, confusion, and awe” (ibid). Well, I’m not, at this point, surprised by their confusion of emotion and valuation (even though their overt point is to distinguish curiosity and interest from emotions related to “apprais[ing an] event as goal-congruent” or, in my non-functionalist idiom: as valuative and purposeful, indeed employing goal congruence self-assessively). In fact, curiosity is quite valuative, as giving something focal worth for one’s sustained attention. But I share their goal: “The category highlights curiosity’s functional role in building knowledge, skills, and relationships, and it emphasizes[—or rather, I would say, can be used to emphasize] the subtle ways in which curiosity contributes to well-being.”

But curiosity is better understood as generative feeling, especially as a cognitive feeling, i.e., expressing an embodied valuing of gaining knowledge. Curiosity is not itself a “knowledge emotion” (or rather, that designation is vacuous). It’s related to gaining knowledge. As generative feeling (beyond notions of “positive emotion”), curiosity is epistemic.

Especially interesting for child curiosity—and all through life, for most persons—are other persons. I’ll focus on this extensively up the road: Attachment security (or good bonding) leads to a durable sense of safety/security or confidence to explore other persons through one’s curiosity. Confident curiosity may lead to exuberant engagements that result in a rich sense of interpersonal relations (even though temperament may lead over the years to love solitude far more than others do).

Endless curiosity about life and world (albeit too often living with limited time) is surely reason to live, born, I feel, from intrinsic appeals that are enhancive. Building on sensitivity to appeals, enhancing sensibility for being drawn into appeals, I call an appropriation of appeals. It may lead to a lasting interest in life and world where love of learning never ends. Such a life is full of enhancing love of/for... whatever, whose horizon is sometimes awe.

I think of far reaches of curiosity’s potential for discovery as a visitation of awe—like a 3 year-old I saw trot onto a very expansive beach with roaring ocean for the first time in her being, her implicit concept of scale wholly blown away in wide-eyed, mouth-dropping Awe, like the witnesses in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” on Devil’s Tower who suddenly realize the scale of the approaching mother ship. There are such experiences in evolving minds as well: the scientific discovery that leaves one humble; or some child of Whitmanian habitation stilled in dwelling.

Dacher Keltner, director of the U.C. Berkeley Greater Good Science Center, ends his recent book Born to be Good (2009) with a chapter on awe that seems to be an invitation to a high intimacy of flourishing: “I begin by talking about John Muir’s experiences of awe in the Sierras that led to the environmentalist movement and trace back to revolutionary thinkers in the West who transformed our experience of awe, from [no longer] a religious experience to something that can be felt in nature, toward others in art, and in spiritual experience. I then rely on studies of goosebumps, dinosaurs, and beauty to tell a story about the evolution of this fascinating emotion, and how it enables us to fold into cooperative social collectives” (xiii).

In the end, this may be what we essentially are: appealing stories weaving into further drawing us onward, the intelligence of Earth, listening.



  Be fair. © 2017, gary e. davis