Do you have a small kid, a little sibling or a young relative? Just take a minute, leave him/her* do her thing, and observe her. No conversation, no interaction, just her by herself. It won’t take long until she starts trying to explore something, whether it’s a toy, a video, a rock, a color, a smell, or a sound, something that would trigger her interest; she might even come and ask you questions about it. “Why is this green?” ”Why is it this pointy?” “Let’s whisper as low as we can.” And this would feel so normal for her to do so. She wouldn’t feel different from any other kid. It wouldn’t make other kids see her as weird. And this is because of one common thing among all kids, and it’s what I want to talk about in this short text.
* I will proceed to address this person with the female pronouns for brevity.
We are all scientists by nature. We are born with an innate ability that defines us as human, yet somehow as we grow up, most of us appear to lose it in some way or another; and more often than not, this happens without us even realizing it. Fortunately, this ability is never really lost. We can actually reaccess it, and in a way, become kids again. This aspect that I’m talking about is Curiosity, and I’d say it’s one of the most important aspects that define a scientist. The reason I gave you an example of a small kid that you would know and not an established professional scientist as you might expect, is because when it comes to curiosity, the two are exactly the same. When getting curious about something, both would do the same thing: ask questions. They would try to come up with ideas (or hypotheses) in their minds, and see if it is true (looking for answers and evidence). And it is the same thing for you and me. It’s such a simple process yet so profound that it can actually define our true being in a sense.
But if that’s the case, shouldn’t everyone be pursuing a career in science and performing scientific investigations? Of course, not. Obviously, very few do compared to what the majority follows as their path in life; and that is normal. However, what’s not okay is the fading of that curiosity all together. My little niece, Elena, is an 8 year old who is fascinated by space. She loves watching videos about planets, stars and even black holes. Every time we play together, she’ll have a question about something in the universe, and when I give her an answer or show her pictures and videos about it, she comes up with tens of questions more. Yet, quite oppositely, a 25 year old friend of mine shows no interest in what’s happening around him. He’s too focused on his work - of which he’s not a fan, but still does it anyway - that he has dismissed almost all his curiosity towards what life is and how we relate to the physical world around us. And this got me thinking: What is it that is diverging us from a sense of scientific curiosity into a life where we take our physical world for granted?
You see, the world is full of amazing things to learn and feed your curiosity with. What’s necessary is for you to keep that curiosity alive. The problem is that we grow out of our curiosity because of the limitations we put ourselves in - or shall I say the limitations we passively allow life to put us in. As we grow, our brains get shaped by the information we collect and the ways we learn to connect the dots. Neuroscientists have found out that when certain neural connections in the brain are less frequently used, our brain’s neuroplasticity shuts those ports down. In other words, the less you do or think about something, the more your brain tends to stop processing those thoughts, literally to save energy for “more important” thoughts. “How is this connected to curiosity?” you may ask. Well, our home upbringing, school systems and traditional work cultures have typically narrowed our focus and limited our thinking into the tasks at hand, the homework we do, the tests we take, the jobs we work at, and the daily life circumstances we go through. We grow in a system that, in a way, diminishes the need for curiosity; and thus, we tend to be less frequently curious about the natural world and our connection to it. We have passively allowed this to happen to the extent that people who are curious are seen as different from the normal. So, let’s break this norm! Let’s work on developing our curiosity and become kids again, just like Elena and all the children who are always thirsty to know more. Read more, ask more, experiment more, imagine more, contemplate more, discuss more and teach more. Once you do so, you’ll find yourself bringing up that inner scientist in you; that scientist who has been longing to grow out of those confining limitations.
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Born in 1992 in El Chouf, Lebanon, Samir grew up dreaming of becoming a scientist and an explorer. Today, he is a former bioengineering and nanotechnology research engineer who has contributed to award-winning projects on cancer diagnosis and silicon-based nanofabrication. He is currently a science communicator and content writer, and is influenced by scientists such as Carl Sagan, Richard Feynman, Richard Dawkins and Stephen Hawking.
Living between Lebanon and Germany, he aims to inform, inspire, educate and entertain readers in various areas of science and engineering by simplifying complex topics, triggering curiosity, provoking thoughts about science and the natural world, and as he says, “gradually bridging the information gap.”