Steve Pollack Book Review | Why?: What Makes Us Curious by Mario Livio

The author of Why?: What Makes Us Curious, Mario Livio, worked as an astrophysicist for over 20 years at the Space Telescope Science Institute — home of the Hubble Space Telescope. Livio has published more than 400 scientific articles and authored  seven books on topics related to astronomy, mathematics, physics and neuroscience.

In Why?: What Makes Us Curious, Livio explores the  concept of humans as "infovores." He explores questions about how we learn new information and what is at the core of our seemingly intrinsic need to know more. Livio explores various theories that seek to explain what makes us curious.

For example, Livio explores whether the main impetus behind knowledge seeking in humans is due to an "information gap" that creates discomfort.That is, is there an uneasiness created in us when we  perceive a disparity between what we "know" and what is presented to us that challenges what we "know?" 

If it is not discomfort that spurs us on to know more,what else could it be? Recent research in psychology suggests that curiosity itself may provide its own reward. When our curiosity is rewarded with new information, our behavior is modified to increase our knowledge-seeking.

The various theories Livio explores, do not, however, fully account for the vast differences between us in our levels of curiosity. Individual differences in curiosity can be enormous. These differences have traditionally been studied in the context of a general trait labeled “openness to experience.” Why are some humans more open to experience than others, and how do the traits associated with this openness impact our curiosity and our acquisition of new information?

Livio focuses a significant amount of time in Why?: What Makes Us Curious exploring what curiosity is, and how to nourish and grow curiosity in ourselves and those around us.  This book it is a thorough, intriguing and informative primer that will prompt the curious reader towards higher levels of curiosity and imagination.

 

-Steve Pollack

 
 

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