Curiosity is the soul's compass.

Updated: Sep 4, 2018

Curiosity makes up for a lot of deficits in life. Even if you are born in a cave, curiosity is like a trail of breadcrumbs that can lead you into the sunlight.

Take the case of two siblings, both born into the same redneck family, in the same redneck town, within a couple of years of each other. They go to the same elementary school and high school.

After that, their paths diverge radically.

Why is it that in so many cases like this, one sibling stays put, while the other goes on to live a great life? I think it is because some people catch the curiosity bug, and others don’t. In his famous allegory, Plato presents us with a bizarre image of some prisoners forced to watch shadows flicker across the back wall of a cave. They are bound in such a way that they cannot even turn their heads, but must always look at the wall. They have been in this condition since birth, so they naturally mistake the shadows for reality. They even have elaborate theories and arguments about which shadows are better.

One of the prisoners manages to break his bonds and crawl his way to the outside of the cave, where he sees reality and natural sunlight for the first time. Even then, he cannot stare directly into the sun, because the source of all illumination is too bright for any eye to grasp. This is a time-honored analogy for spiritual and intellectual growth, but Plato glosses over a key point: This prisoner doesn’t simply “happen” to break his bonds. There was something that motivated him to do so. Even after he broke his bonds, there had to be something mysterious inside of him that made him want to claw his way out of that cave, even against the screaming protestations of his atrophied muscles. There had to be something that made crawling through dirt and darkness seem “worth it” for him, even though he had no objective reason to anticipate a reward, and plenty of reasons to anticipate disaster. Curiosity was the thing this prisoner had that the other prisoners did not have. The same can be said of Adam and Eve. Curiosity led them (and all of us, according to the myth) into many difficulties, but those difficulties were and are nothing other than the cost of enlightenment.

Who would choose to return to the beastial state Adam and Eve were in at the beginning of the story? Who would choose not to know the difference between good and evil? This “forbidden” knowledge — and the curiosity that leads to it — is the only thing that distinguishes humankind from the dogs and cats we take as pets, or from the other other animals we slaughter and eat.

Curiosity makes up for many ills — bad parentage, poverty, bodily weakness... you name it. With enough curiosity, a person who was born to be a nobody can become immanent.  

On the other hand, lack of curiosity destroys many blessings. Dullness can supersede the influence of excellent parents with plenty of money. It can be more influential than athletic strength or any other advantage in life. Without adequate curiosity, the best a person can hope for is to sit still and stare at the flicker show.

It is worth noting the similarity between staring at shadows on a wall, and staring at a computer screen or television.

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