I didn’t know this (long extract from much longer post).
Objects of curiosity were often collected during the Grand Tour – the leisurely traverse of the Continent that a young gentleman undertook as a rite of passage. Often taking years, the Grand Tour was an active curiosity seeking adventure. Because of the tyranny of distance, the Age of Discovery was populated by thrill seekers eager to discover new lands; physical explorations of classical architecture on the Continent; private displays of Cabinets of Curiosity; people gathering in coffee houses to digest the latest curious and wondrous thing. It was clearly an Age of Curiosity.
What is the 21st Century version of the Grand Tour or the Cabinet of Curiosity? Is curiosity an active seeking of something? If so, then because our world is stuffed full of digital information and abundance, perhaps we are now merely passive seekers. Everything is at our fingertips via the PC and the Internet; we can meet other humans on MySpace or Facebook; we can take any voyage of discovery we like just by sitting and clicking.
And so it is a new reality we face. Maybe we are still curious but it’s a different type of curiosity. It is no longer fuelled by discovering new lands or scientific curios; it is fuelled by a thirst to know our identity in a postmodern world. Maybe curiosity has returned to a need to reconnect ourselves with nature and the environment. So it’s an internal process rather than a public one of displaying curiosity.
The Age of Discovery was a public space of curiosity: explorers physically walking, sailing and mapping the world; Newton dropping apples to learn about gravity; Galileo staring into the night sky discovering planets. Perhaps our so-called Modern Age is too smug with its reliance on science and we no longer feel the need to engage in the public space of curiosity. And so we have turned inward and discovered the New Age, the Age of Aquarius, the Age of Me and My PC. The accumulated knowledge of society is available at our fingertips on the internet to be called up Just in Time. We are no longer compelled to be curious as in the past. But we seem to be compelled to be curious about conquering of the self for beauty, health and spiritual well-being. Curiosity now equates with curiosity about me, the individual – self-knowledge.
Mmmmm…okay not sure where I am at this point in my rant. I’ve only just started thinking about all this. In the meantime, I’ve put together the thinkingshift-guide-to-being-curious.doc, which encompasses ideas and tips on how to foster curiosity in ourselves.
I’ll finish this post with a couple of things. Michel Foucault in the Masked Philosopher spoke eloquently about curiosity. He said:
“The word (curiosity) pleases me. To me it suggests something altogether different: it evokes “concern”; it evokes the care one takes for what exists and could exist; a readiness to find strange and singular what surrounds us; a certain relentlessness to break up our familiarities and to regard otherwise the same things; a fervor to grasp what is happening and what passes; a casualness in regard to the traditional hierarchies of the important and the essential.”
Coincidentally, the Bodleian Library has just digitized their “Book of Curiosities” an Arab cosmological treatise originally compiled in Egypt in the 11th century. This is the map (South at the top, the Mediterranean is on the right).