This week NASA launched Curiosity, the new Mars rover, to explore the mysteries of the red planet. For millennia, we've gazed in wonder at the stars above our heads. Curiosity is intrinsic to our nature. As children, we naturally reach out to explore our world. Creative individuals--artists and scientists--never lose this intrinsic curiosity.
Years ago as a college student at UC Riverside, I saw this quality in Linus Pauling when he spoke to a group of students gathered on the campus lawn. His blue eyes sparkled as he told us about his life as a scientist--following his curiosity, exploring new ideas. It was late afternoon. The sun's parting rays were at his back, but he had his own light, radiating exuberant energy and the joy of discovery. His bright spirit has been an inspiration for me ever since.
Curiosity lights our lives, inspires us to seek out answers. Researchers at the University of Edinburgh have found that a "hungry mind" is as significant as intelligence and effort in determining academic performance (von Strumm, Hell, & Chamorro-Premuzic, 2011). Always asking "Why?" intrinsically curious students are motivated not by test scores and grades, but by their own hunger for answers. I recall one student, Michael, whose persistent questions impressed some of his professors but annoyed many others--he even made one of them cry. Michael went on to medical school, becoming a successful researcher. Finding new treatments for diseases, he's still asking questions, still wondering "Why?"