Curiosity in Literature

From Adaptive Cycle
Jump to: navigation, search

Contributors

Jolanta Wos

Although curiosity may be the still a rather understudied territory, it has been a concept that perplexed many writers and scholars throughout the centuries. It has been criticised as a path leading to certain doom, yet it has also been glorified as a means of truth discovery as has been exemplified in number of investigating stories. Nabokov may have stated in his novel, Bend Sinister, [1] that “curiosity... is insubordination in its purest form.” However, following the line of Aristotle's reasoning, one mostly benefits from it, when “golden mean” [2] measure is retained. Excessive curiosity as well as insufficient curiosity are not only inadvisable as extremes but also potentially diastrous in consequences.

Examples of Curiosity in Literature:

  • Bible:
- Eve's apple [3]
- Ado / Edith (Lot's wife) being turned into salt pillar [4]
  • Mythology:
- Pandora's box [5]
- Orpheus losing Eurydice a second time in Hades [6]
  • Middle Ages:
- St. Augustine (354 - 430), [7] “Confessions of St. Augustine” (398) [8]
St. Augustine, as one of the early Christian philosophers, was the first one to attempt a philosophical examinationa and explanation of curiosity concept. In his “Confessions”, he approaches this idea as “a lust for knowledge”. In this respect it was a right accredited exclusively to God. [9]
  • 17th century:
- Sir Francis Bacon (1561 - 1626), [10] “The Advancement and Proficience of Learning Divine and Human.” (1605) [11]
Another approach was presented by Francis Bacon, who in “The Advancement...” challenged the religious point of view. He posited that knowledge sprang from curiosity. In this sense, the latter was endowed with positive features, as it contributed to the increase in education and in turn could contribute to improvement of human ethical standars. It seems, however, that the Clergy did not share Bacon's revolutionary opinion, since his work eventually found itself on the Index of Prohibited Books by the Catholic Church. [9]
  • 19th century:
- William James (1842 - 1910), [12] “The Principles of Psychology” (1890) [13]
Following the fate of Bacon's book's placement on the Prohibited Books Index, it comes as no surprise any consequent examination into the field of curiosity was abandoned for quite some time. It was not until late 19th century, that William James published his work on “The Principles of Psychology”. With this position, he established not only the approach to curiosity, but also its categorisation. He introduced a differentiation, which later influenced most researchers in the field, that divided curiosity into instinctual (emotional) and scientific (metaphysical). The former was aroused by stimuli originating from observing something previously unidentified. This was compared to the behaviour exhibited by an animal that encounters something new. It could be an object or food. The reaction is most of the time similar. It starts with careful approaching, smelling and perhaps standing back, and again the same, until the animal feels safe and familiar enough to conclude the investigation. The second type of curiosity, (i.e. scientific or methaphysical) refers to incongruity in one's level of knowledge. If such a gap occurs, one tries to find out its origins and subsequently bridge it. A person's response to it is compared with a reaction that one wxhibits when hearing a false note while listening to a piece of music. [9]
  • 20th century:
- Clark Hull (1884 - 1952), [14] “Principles of Behavior, an Introduction to Behavior Therapy” (1943)
20th century sees again an emerging and more focused interest in curiosity. Hull sets an underlying scenery for further research in the area by placing curiosity along other basic drives, i.e. hunger, thirst, mating. He postulated that “novel stimulus” intrigues an organism to pursue further comprehension of what triggered the interest. This reaction, referred to as curiosity is initially built up and will gradually decrease as a result to prolonged exposure to that stimuli. This is based on Hullian model of extinction with “both reactive inhibition and conditioned inhibition”. [15]
- Daniel Berlyne (1924 - 1976), [16] “Conflict, Arousal and Curiosity (1960)
Hullian theory influenced and sparked the interest of Berlyne in the subject of curiosity. Following in the footsteps of James, Berlyne divided curiosity into two categories: diverse and specific. [9] Berlyne was also responsible for differentiating between perceptual and epistemic curiosity. For further information regarding curiosity types , see the page on Topology of Curiosity .
Berlyne was definitely an advocate of the Aristotelian “Golden Mean”, proposing moderate levels of arousal as ideally stimulating curiosity. [9] He postulated that well-balanced incentive was compensating, while excessive amount of it could prove repellent or even destructive. [17]


For further information regarding curiosity stimulators as well as inhibitors, see the pages on Excessive Curiosity and Barriers to Curiosity, respectively.

For further information regarding the role of Curiosity in the Adaptive Cycle go back to Group 2 Student Lecture.


References

  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bend_Sinister_(novel)
  2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_mean_(philosophy)
  3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eve
  4. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lot%27s_wife
  5. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pandora%27s_box
  6. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Euridice
  7. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Augustine
  8. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confessions_of_St._Augustine
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 Borowske, Kate., Curiosity and Motivation-to-Learn. Paper presented at ACRL 12th National Conference, Minneapolis, Minnesota. April 07-10, 2005, p.346
  10. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francis_Bacon
  11. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Advancement_of_Learning
  12. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_james
  13. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Principles_of_Psychology
  14. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clark_Hull
  15. Glanzer, Murray., Curiosity, Exploratory Drive and Stimulus Satiation. Psychological Bulletin. 1958, Vol.55, no.5, p.303
  16. http://www.psych.utoronto.ca/users/furedy/daniel_berlyne.htm
  17. Boyle, Gregory J., Critical Review of State-Trait Curiosity Test Development. Institute of Catholic Education. p.1

Contributors

Jolanta Wos