Are You Curious?

Did you see the story last week about the teenager in Germany Shouryya Ray who solved a 300-year-old mathematical riddle posed by Sir Isaac Newton?

Shouryya Ray worked out how to calculate exactly the path of a projectile under gravity and subject to air resistance. The Indian-born teen said he solved the problem that had stumped mathematicians for centuries while working on a school project. He won a research award for his efforts and has been labelled a genius by the German media, but he put it down to “curiosity and schoolboy naivety”. “When it was explained to us that the problems had no solutions, I thought to myself, ‘well, there’s no harm in trying,'” he said. Mr Ray’s family moved to Germany when he was 12 after his engineer father got a job at a technical college. He said his father instilled in him a “hunger for mathematics” and taught him calculus at the age of six.

June 10, 2012
Proverbs 4:4b-9, 25:2, Are You Curious?

Doug Scalise, Brewster Baptist Church

Mr Ray’s father said his son’s mathematical prowess quickly outstripped his own considerable knowledge. “He never discussed his project with me before it was finished and the mathematics he used are far beyond my reach,” he said. Newton posed the problem, relating to the movement of projectiles through the air, in the 17th century. Until now, mathematicians had only been able to offer partial solutions. If that wasn’t enough of an achievement, Mr Ray also solved a second problem, dealing with the collision of a body with a wall that was posed in the 19th century. Both problems Mr Ray resolved are from the field of dynamics and his solutions are expected to contribute to greater precision in areas such as ballistics.

One proverbial saying warns that “curiosity killed the cat.” However, stifling curiosity and the desire to learn and explore is not a great way to go through life. Most of humanity’s great discoveries are the result of a healthy, even courageous curiosity. Curiosity is the key to many lives of great influence including people such as Leonardo Da Vinci, Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein and Steve Jobs. The Bible suggests that curiosity, the desire to learn and acquire greater wisdom, to gain insight and understanding is to be part of our life. Luke 2:52 tells us that even Jesus grew in wisdom. So in this season of graduations I want to talk with you this morning about the importance and value of curiosity. Listen to Proverbs 4:4b-9, 25:2;

“Let your heart hold fast my words;

keep my commandments, and live.

5     Get wisdom; get insight: do not forget, nor turn away

from the words of my mouth.

6     Do not forsake her, and she will keep you;

love her, and she will guard you.

7     The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom,

and whatever else you get, get insight.

8     Prize her highly, and she will exalt you;

she will honor you if you embrace her.

9     She will place on your head a fair garland;

she will bestow on you a beautiful crown.” Proverbs 4b-9


“It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out.” Proverbs 25:2

I enjoyed Children’s Sunday last week. It was nice to see them all from the youngest to the oldest singing songs, reading scripture, praying, and sharing about their faith experience. We’ve also had several families blessed recently by the birth of babies. One of the things about very young children that I think is so cool is looking at their eyes and face as they are looking at you and whatever is going on and you can almost hear their brain firing like crazy as they’re trying to figure out and process what is happening.

Children are naturally filled with curiosity. By curiosity I mean, a desire to know or learn. Parents, teachers and other people surrounding children play a major role on how they view the world. Are you still curious about the things that happen around you? Does seeing a rainbow like the one on Thursday evening excite you? Do you still want to learn and read about things you don’t know? Do you still have a sense of wonder? Thomas Carlyle said, “Wonder is the basis of worship.” Are you still curious? Encouraging kids to ask questions and seeking to answer them is a great way to encourage curiosity and learning. Our son Nathan from the time he started speaking was always asking, “Why?” about everything and we tried to explain things as best we could in a way he could understand to him and then to our younger son Greg.

To parents with young children or to grandparents with young grandchildren I urge you to encourage them to ask questions, create time to wonder together (where do you think that plane is going, where do think that bird has its nest), explore different places (the beach, woods, museums, parks, historical sites, an art gallery, a farm and ask questions about what you’re seeing and experiencing), look at things differently – through a microscope, a magnifying glass, binoculars, or a telescope. How does a change in perspective alter what we see? Children have an amazing level of curiosity, all adults have to do is feed it and not discourage it. Two things we don’t want to quench in young people are the Spirit and curiosity.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, wrote, somewhat humorously, in The Little Prince, 1943, “Grown-ups never understand anything for themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them.”

“Grown-ups love figures.  When you tell them that you have made a new friend, they never ask you any questions about essential matters. They never say to you, “What does his voice sound like?  What games does he love best?  Does he collect butterflies?” Instead, they demand: “How old is he? How many brothers has he? How much does he weigh? How much money does his father make?”  Only from these figures do they think they have learned anything about him.”  ~ (translated from French).

One author (Fran Lebowitz) noted, “Children ask better questions than adults. “May I have a cookie?” “Why is the sky blue?” and “What does a cow say?” are far more likely to elicit a cheerful response than “Where’s your manuscript?” Why haven’t you called?” and “Who’s your lawyer?”

Edmund Burke wrote, “The first and simplest emotion which we discover in the human mind, is curiosity.” I think that’s what Proverbs 25:2 is getting at in saying, “It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out.”  God has concealed so much within the world, creation, and the universe; within living things, cells, and atoms; that human beings have gradually been searching out and discovering and coming to understand over hundreds and thousands of years. This is part of why remaining curious throughout our life is so important. What might God still be seeking to reveal to you as you move through life? What new discoveries might the Lord have for you as you journey on through the stages and ages of life?

Curiosity is important for at least four reasons. Curiosity makes our mind active instead of passive. Curious people ask questions and search for answers in their minds. Their minds are always active. Since the mind is like a muscle which becomes stronger through continual exercise, the mental exercise caused by curiosity makes our mind stronger and stronger.

Curiosity makes our mind observant of new ideas. When we’re curious about something, our mind expects and anticipates new ideas related to it. When the ideas come they’re soon recognized. Without curiosity, the ideas may pass right in front of you and yet you miss them because your mind is not prepared to recognize them. Just think, how many great ideas may have been lost due to a lack of curiosity?

Curiosity opens up new worlds and possibilities. By being curious we’re able to see new worlds and possibilities which are normally not visible. They’re hidden behind the surface of normal life, and it takes a curious mind, like that of the king in Proverbs 25:2, to look beneath the surface and discover these new worlds and possibilities.

Curiosity brings excitement into our life. The life of curious people is far from boring. It’s neither dull nor routine. There are always new things that attract their attention; there are always new ‘toys’ to play with. Instead of being bored, curious people have an adventurous life.
Ken Medina writes in his excellent book, Brain Rules, “We are designed to never stop learning and exploring.” What can we do, whether we’re graduating from high school or college, or if we’re retired to maintain a healthy curiosity about life, faith, people, and the world in which we live?

How do we cultivate a healthy sense of curiosity? In addition to what I said earlier to parents with young children, I would suggest the following.

1. Keep an open mind. This is essential if you are to have a curious mind. Be open to learn, unlearn, and relearn. Some things we know and believe might be wrong, and we should be prepared to accept this possibility and change our mind. So many things humanity never thought possible are now reality. And Jesus says that “With God all things are possible,” so Christians, of all people, should be open to what the Lord might do even if we find it hard to believe. We are to keep learning.  Eartha Kitt said memorably, “I am learning all the time. The tombstone will be my diploma.”

2. Don’t take things as given. If we just accept the world as it is without trying to dig deeper, we will risk losing our ‘holy curiosity’. Never take things as granted. Try to dig deeper beneath the surface of what is around you. Try to see things as if for the first time. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “To speak truly, few adult persons can see nature. Most persons do not see the sun. At least they have a very superficial seeing. The sun illuminates only the eye of the man, but shines into the eye and heart of the child. The lover of nature is he whose inward and outward senses are still truly adjusted to each other; who has retained the spirit of infancy even into the era of manhood.” 

3. Ask questions relentlessly. A sure way to dig deeper beneath the surface is asking questions: What is that? Why is it made that way? When was it made? Who invented it? Where does it come from? How does it work? What, why, when, who, where, and how are the best friends of curious people. Astronaut Neil Armstrong who had the courageous curiosity to risk travelling to the moon said, “Mystery creates wonder and wonder is the basis of the human being’s desire to understand.”

4. Don’t label something as boring. Whenever we label something as boring, we close one more door of possibilities. It also may say more about us than we realize or wish to communicate. Curious people are less likely to call something boring. Instead, see even something that may appear routine as a door to an exciting new world. Even if we don’t yet have time to fully explore it, we can leave the door open to be visited another time. Mike Dolan said, “Anticipate the day as if it was your birthday and you are turning six again.”

5. See learning as something fun. If you see learning as a burden, there’s no way you’ll want to dig deeper into anything. That will just make the burden heavier. But if you think of learning as something fun, you’ll naturally want to dig deeper. So look at life through the glasses of fun and excitement and enjoy the learning process. Walt Disney said, “Keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things…your curiosity will lead you down the path of success.”

6. Read diverse kinds of reading. Don’t spend too much time on just one world; take a look at other worlds. This is something Jill does well reading about other countries, cultures, and places is the least expensive way to travel and learn about other people. Reading outside your comfort zone will introduce you to the possibilities and perspectives of other places, people or ideas which may spark your interest to explore them further. One easy way to do this is through reading a book or magazine on a new subject and let it feed your mind with the excitement of a new world. Stretch yourself. Abraham Lincoln wrote, “I don’t think much of a man who is not wiser today than he was yesterday.”

“It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out.”  Be the kind of curious person who keeps searching things out and striving to learn more. I close with a quote by Albert Einstein:

“The important thing is not to stop questioning.  Curiosity has its own reason for existing.  One cannot help but be in awe when one contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality.  It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every day.  Never lose a holy curiosity.”

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