Why?

Why?

What Makes Us Curious

Book - 2017 | First Simon & Schuster hardcover edition.
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"This is a fascinating examination of perhaps our most human characteristic, our innate curiosity, our deep desire to know why. Why are we more distracted by a cell-phone conversation, where we can hear only one side of the dialogue, than by an overheard argument between two people? Are children more curious than adults? What is the source of the morbid curiosity that causes bystanders to gather at crime scenes or traffic accidents? What evolutionary purpose does curiosity serve? How does our mind choose what to be curious about? Why? explores these and many other intriguing questions. Curiosity is essential to creativity. It is a necessary ingredient in so many art forms, from mystery novels and film dramas to painting, sculpture, and music. It is the principal driver of science, and yet there is no scientific consensus on why we humans are so curious or about the precise mechanisms in our brain that are responsible for curiosity. Mario Livio investigates curiosity through the lives of such paragons of inquisitiveness as Leonardo da Vinci and Richard Feynman. He interviewed a range of exceptionally curious people from an astronaut with degrees in statistics, medicine, and literature to a rock guitarist with a PhD in astrophysics. Because of Livio's own insatiable curiosity, Why? is an irresistible and entertaining book that will captivate anyone who is curious about curiosity."--Jacket.
Publisher: New York : Simon & Schuster, 2017.
Edition: First Simon & Schuster hardcover edition.
ISBN: 9781476792095
1476792097
Branch Call Number: 153.3 LIVIO
Characteristics: xiii, 252 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm

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tmundy
Sep 19, 2017

Being curious about a book which poses to unlock the secrets to one of our great motivating drives to learn, I realized how little we have ventured into the psychology of this phenomenon and, hence, how few in the related scientific fields even wish to study this mental state, much less demonstrate their own curiosity towards, well, curiosity. While Livio chunks the material into three sections: first on the areas both Da Vinci and Feynman, the western world's most famous polymaths, had spent their lives studying; second on the psychological and neurological findings to-date on what occurs when we are curious; and finally a section in which he 'interviews' people famous for their accomplishments, and, their purported curious minds. The lack of data and insights into the intellectual act of being curious is certainly the fault of today's scientists, but the rest of what's reported in this book is that of the authour.
Be ready to wade through some serious neglect in editing: reading through the interviews was as if I was listening to an over-excited friend who hadn't framed their retelling of the moment before blurting it out to me, wherein at many points there are actual sidetracks where Livio just goes off on a conversational tangent with the interviewee... and decided this was interesting enough for the reader to include ad verbatim. Descriptions of psychological/neurological concepts are either over- or under-explained to the layperson, or even seemingly randomly inserted. This was my favourite - BTW this was the entire paragraph:
"The human brain has two hemispheres, which are covered by a deeply wrinkled gray tissue, the cerebral cortex (Figure 18 - *MY NOTE: found in another chapter without a page reference*). Each bulging area on the surface is a gyrus, and each infold is a sulcus. The important point for our purposes is that part of the neurons in the cerebral cortex are responsible for everything we associate with the concept of intelligence."
Given that this is a book meant for the layperson to wrap their head around how science can explain our brains' activity during curiosity, having a book with such a disjointed flow and breezy editing made the endeavour feel all the more plodding and pedantic. If anything, I really have become more curious about whether an authour like Livio, who has four favourably reviewed books about mathematics and astronomy already, has fared more admirably in explanatory prowess in his other attempts.
Nonetheless I felt satisfied after reading this book that I have attained the current updates on what we know of the brain's processing while enacting the cognitive act of curiosity, and if I were your guide in tackling this text, I would tell you to jump to only Chapters 4 through 6, wherein these studies are described, but feel free to read on beyond those bounds if you have the niggling curiosity of whether my criticisms of Livio's prose ring true.

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