Stanley Fish writes a provocative essay in the NYT on whether curiosity is tantamount to “a mental disorder,” or even a sin:
Give this indictment of men in love with their own capacities a positive twist and it becomes a description of the scientific project, which includes among its many achievements space travel, a split atom, cloning and the information revolution. It is a project that celebrates the expansion of knowledge’s boundaries as an undoubted good, and it is a project that Chairman Leach salutes when he proudly lists the joint efforts by the University of Virginia and the N.E.H. to digitalize just about everything. “The computer revolution,” he announces, “holds out the prospect that the digital library could be become an international citadel for the pursuit of curiosity.”
That’s exactly what Paul Griffiths, professor of divinity at Duke University, is afraid of. Where Leach welcomes the enlargement of curiosity’s empire, Griffiths, who is writing a book on the vice of curiosity, sees it as a sign of moral and spiritual danger: “Late modern societies that are fundamentally shaped by the overwhelming presence of electronic media and the obscene inundation of every aspect of human life by pictures and sounds have turned the vice of curiosity into a prescribed way of life.” (source)
I like Dorothy Parker’s classic take on this: “The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.” Curiosity is indeed a lifetime affliction, and I’ve often wondered if I’d be calmer and happier (not to mention wealthier) if I were a little less curious. But that’s beside the point: if I weren’t curious, I wouldn’t be me. (Ask any of my friends.)
MindHacks gives a brief guide to the growing “fake pharmacopeia”:
Depressed? Over worked? Job suck? Unappreciated? Family problems? Money worries? Well here’s a pill for you! Fukitol.
More on the brain: according to Clive Thompson at Wired, Stanford researchers have evidence that kids are writing more than ever:
The first thing she found is that young people today write far more than any generation before them. That’s because so much socializing takes place online, and it almost always involves text. Of all the writing that the Stanford students did, a stunning 38 percent of it took place out of the classroom–life writing, as Lunsford calls it. Those Twitter updates and lists of 25 things about yourself add up.
It’s almost hard to remember how big a paradigm shift this is. Before the Internet came along, most Americans never wrote anything, ever, that wasn’t a school assignment. Unless they got a job that required producing text (like in law, advertising, or media), they’d leave school and virtually never construct a paragraph again.
Whether Facebook status updates should qualify as “writing” is a question I shall not engage today.
Speaking of language, researchers find that discussing art out loud affects our opinion of it:
Because participants found it easier to talk about why they liked the representational painting compared with the abstract one, this biased them in favour of the representational painting. Similarly, participants who had to talk about their dislike for the art, found this easier for the representational painting, which subsequently biased them against it. (source)
And speaking of education, the Washington Monthly speculates on whether college will someday cost $99/month – in which case I am overpaying by orders of magnitude:
Colleges are caught in the same kind of debt-fueled price spiral that just blew up the real estate market. They’re also in the information business in a time when technology is driving down the cost of selling information to record, destabilizing lows. In combination, these two trends threaten to shake the foundation of the modern university, in much the same way that other seemingly impregnable institutions have been torn apart. In some ways, the upheaval will be a welcome one. Students will benefit enormously from radically lower prices–particularly people like Solvig who lack disposable income and need higher learning to compete in an ever-more treacherous economy. But these huge changes will also seriously threaten the ability of universities to provide all the things beyond teaching on which society depends: science, culture, the transmission of our civilization from one generation to the next.(source)
Depressed yet? The Beloit College Mindset List points out another unpleasant truth: the college class of 2013 has never used a card catalog to find a book. From their perspective, racial classifications in South Africa have always been outlawed, there’s always been a computer in the Oval Office, and there’s always been blue Jell-O. Sigh. . .
Oh yeah – and ‘A dead salmon perceiving humans can tell their emotional state.’ Ouch. fMRI artifact smackdown, people!