Curiosity as Emotive Force

Is it curiosity that drives children to explore their world or something more basic?

You see, I’m not really sure it’s curiosity that leads them to play with letter boards or to imitate their parents as we bumble about our lives. Curiosity means something more, a sense of diligent exploration of self and world. Self and world are good categories, with an exception because I believe in God. So perhaps, self and other would serve better, but either way we have this limited set of categories that really all can be put into.

When I watch Jane play and pick up things and look for new words and new worlds to be in, I’m not sure it’s curiosity. She isn’t trying to exhaustively understand anything in particular, but maybe it would be proto-curiosity or pre-curiosity. Curiosity proper is reflective. It falls at the crux of where we are in the world and seeks out new things. It is willfully entering the unknown or willfully allowing ourselves to experience the unknown around us. It’s evanescence and transcendence and immersion all wrapped up in one.

Kids, kids are just curious or proto-curious just because everything around them from the words we speak to the sky and the ground are unknown. Their is no intentional change of inward disposition to the world, they aren’t familiar enough with the world to need an internal change of disposition. They’re already steeped in the unknown, for all they know the ground could turn into a pillow before they hit it.

But adults, and who knows when this really happens, we are surrounded by the tangible and familiar, and curiosity is willingly and joyfully stripping ourselves of what we think we know and going in small or giant strides towards discovery. If imagination, as James K.A. Smith suggests, is a quasi-faculty through which we grasp the world, then curiosity is the flexibility of that faculty to encounter the chinks in our conceptualizations of self, world, and divine and to explore those chinks.

Of course, I’m just having fun with the idea of curiosity. For most of my life, I have absolutely loved to learn, and I’ve had the privilege of being around people who are exploring their world in their own ways. Curiosity may innately be a desire to wake up each morning and see what has been made new. There is curiosity that drives us towards the moon, towards the next level of a video game, two hike the same trail twice, to try to stand in the same river twice, to pray, to seek, to listen, to plant, and to grow.

It’s quite a thing curiosity. I think it’s what Paul means when he says we are to push on towards the goal, when he says the glories that are to come are more than the pains we bear, and when he prays for us to comprehend the height, depth, and breadth of the love of God. May curiosity keep us to the next dawn.


About Sean Smith

Husband, Father, Pastor, Swimmer, Writer, Reader, and attempted Adventurer!
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