On Curiosity

DSmith

Dillon Smith ’16

A few weeks ago, Mr. Maher stood up at school meeting and talked to you all about a very important personal trait: integrity. I am here today to talk to you about something else. Something that I value very highly, I would say as highly as I value integrity. That something is curiosity. Now, some of you may have been cautioned against curiosity by the old adage “curiosity killed the cat.” This of course is referring to Schrodinger’s cat, who famously was put in a box with a flask of poison in order to prove that, unless the box is opened, the cat is simultaneously dead and alive. Thus, out of curiosity, opening the box to find out whether the cat is dead or alive effectively kills the cat. This, however, is not the way we should look at curiosity. Curiosity, to me, is one of the most important characteristics of human nature. It is what drives us to ask questions, to learn, to broaden the stretch of our understanding and the breadth of our creativity and imagination. Without it, no one would ever have asked what the bright spots in the night sky are or why hundreds of different bird species live on islands separated by mere miles. (The answers here are stars and evolution in case that needed clarification). Curiosity is the root of human discovery. It is the reason Shakespeare proposed the transcending question “to be or not to be?” just as it inspires each and every one of us to ask as children why the sky is blue and why the grass is green.

Without curiosity, we would live mundane lives in a mundane world, each day exactly the same as the preceding one without any variation or excitement. Curiosity leads to change. It causes people to stop for a moment and ask “why do we do that?” and then leads us to do something different, something new, something better. Asking questions is what led to the desegregation of America, to the student protests about Vietnam, and to all other social reforms. It led to the development of the theory of evolution, the theory of relativity, and Newton’s three laws. Curiosity is one of a select few traits that has influenced all aspects of humanity across all parts of the world. Chinese intellectuals have developed DNA brakes. European scientists discovered antimatter with the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland. Americans have revolutionized the world’s understanding of how we view genetics. It is even the only trait that is working to learn more about another planet. The Curiosity Rover, launched by NASA in 2012, is currently roaming the surface of Mars looking for evidence to answer the age-old question: are we alone? It has been up there on the little red planet gathering data for over three years thus bettering human understanding of the universe and how planets are formed. Curiosity has taken us from the darkest depths of the ocean to the core of the sun, from the smallest quarks that make up atoms to the biggest galaxies that make up the universe, from the darkest depths of the human mind to the most amazing actions of human kindness. Curiosity is a beautiful, amazing thing that deserves more attention than it gets.

Personally, I believe that curiosity is one of the most undervalued traits in American society. Students are trained in rote memorization throughout grade school, and it is not until late in their educational career that they are taught how to ask questions and seek answers. This thought is quite troubling to me, as ever since I was a child my parents raised me to be inquisitive. Watching my peers simply accept what they were being told was upsetting and led me to develop the idea for my Eagle Service Project, a rejuvenation of an outdoor, enclosed courtyard where students could find an environment that fostered intellectual growth. In the end, after over 530 hours of work, I, along with volunteers, had created an environment filled with youthful flowers, bright colors, comfortable furniture, and a contemplative sand garden where students could go to find a serene environment conducive to asking questions. The elementary school held its first class in the renovated courtyard days after the opening ceremony, after nearly seven years of disuse. I had bestowed what was, in my eyes, the most valuable gift a person could give to a child: the opportunity to ask a question.

Now, contrary to what you’ve been told your whole lives, there is such thing as a stupid question. But stupid questions are not what you would expect. They are the questions you already know the answers to. Why would you ask about what you already know when you can ask the other questions and expand your knowledge base? There are so many questions out there that have yet to be asked, that have yet to be answered. I put it to you all. Faculty, I put it to you to never dismiss a student’s valid questions. But more importantly, students. I put it to you all to ask the right questions and find the right answers.

Photo of Dillon Smith ’16 by Mr. Michael Aldridge.

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