Sometime ago, in a past I am more than willing to forget, I had a discussion with a close friend about whether curiosity or desire was more necessary for development in the world. Needless to say the discussion quickly shifted focus to what, in fact, was development. Unsatisfied by the turn of events, we decided to modify the criterion of our discussion to whether it was curiosity or desire which was the reason behind most of the scientific pursuits and developments.
Being more of a “why” person as opposed to a “what if” person, I took it upon myself to become curiosity’s knight, little aware of the fact that I was up against desire’s bishop. I returned from the contest alive, but barely so. It was a Pyrrhic victory if there ever was one, for the comfort which I had with regard to curiosity had been gone. I didn’t believe in the sanctity of curiosity anymore and, if that discussion were to be held again today, I would just as willingly fight for desire as I once did for curiosity.
Sitting at my desk today it struck me that the argument hadn’t ever really been drawn to a close. My friend hadn’t lost after all, and, the downside of the realisation, I hadn’t really won. So I decided to take the argument further, but not with anyone who might give me ideas which I cannot quite work with, for as much as I like to learn there is a time and a place fore everything and this wasn’t it. I carried the argument forward with myself instead, and though I haven’t quite reached a conclusion, I thought it quite worthy to be shared here.
However, narrating two sides of an argument, especially one which took place in two incidences separated by more than four months, is not only a tedious task but also a recipe for losing readership. Instead, I’ll get right to the point which I think could benefit the world, and, should that desire seem too melodramatic and hollow, it would give my mind the peace necessary for it to function.
Have you ever wondered why or how things happen? Why did humans learn to walk upright? Why did oxygen only develop on planet Earth? Why does gravity pull you towards itself instead of pushing you away? How does the system of tectonic plates work? How did evolution land us here, in present day? How do scientists get the ideas for groundbreaking theories?
It’s all there in our heads, and I am sure we have all wondered about such things at some point in our lives, but refused to follow the train of thoughts for any of the million reasons that surround us. Maybe we realised that such pondering yields no good, is perhaps too vague or simply too silly. Or maybe someone we assume is wiser to us heard our misgiving and showed us that they were simply a waste of the precious time we have. Either way, even if these doubts do find their way into our heads, they are quickly squashed out.
On the other hand, desires are ever-persistent. Desires cannot be squashed out because they form a home in our hearts and minds and leave a hollowness whenever they are taken away unsatisfied. Desires, therefore, seem to be the stronger, or at any rate the more permanent, governing forces of our actions.
Perhaps the greatest strength of desire is its range. Curiosity, when it exists, cannot be small, else it shan’t be called curiosity but doubt, or lack of knowledge. Do we call a person who wonders about the taste of chocolate curious? Of course not, we simply call them unlearned or inexperienced. But a person with desire, no matter how small, is still called desirous. A person who desires the greater good of mankind is as desirous as a person who desires, for lack of a better example and to provide some form of analogy, chocolate.
So is that it? Does desire take the crown simply because it is a broader concept than curiosity? No, absolutely not. For curiosity is nothing but the desire to know, the desire to learn something new, or to feel something new. Curiosity is nothing if not a form of desire itself, a specific part which is so strong and so different to desire itself that it merits its own side in this argument.
Curiosity is rich. As I said, a person who would like to know the taste of chocolate isn’t curious. Curiosity isn’t something just anyone can have, it’s a rare occurrence which makes it both precious and, in some crooked sense, utterly worthless. The example which my friend and I had debated upon was that of the Wright brothers. Were they curious to know what the sensation of light would feel like or did they simply have the desire to fly?
Now the question seems awfully simple. It doesn’t matter. Of course they were curious about the sensation of flight, who isn’t? The wanted to know what flying would feel like, and they also wanted to fly. What matters is which of these desires was the stronger factor influencing their decisions? Was it the desire to experience something new, which we have already classified as curiosity, or simply the desire to do something, without the intent of learning something from the experience.
You will find that the answer to this question, and any other questions which draw any form of line between curiosity and desire, are nearly impossible to answer. They are almost always vague and offer no form of consolation even when the questions are answered. Some things are, perhaps, best left to great thinkers of the time, for we are, and I proudly include myself in this category, fools at best.
All said and done, I shall always be curious. I shall always have the overwhelming desire to know, know just about everything there is to know. It seems like a ridiculous desire, which is why I don’t which to think of it as a desire at all. I am curious, and happy to be, for there is joy in learning the unknown, and that joy is worth more than the satisfaction of any desires which I may or may not have.