Curiosity is an Existential Issue But to Make the World More Curious You Need To Change Many Systems
Most people would agree that the world needs to be more curious. We face more and more wicked existential threats than ever before. And we don’t know where to start solving many of them. If we aren’t more curious, we will continue in our cluelessness. Until, because the threats are existential, we stop continuing.
But how do we make the world more curious?
This is a short follow-up to my piece on the “horizon of care” — or as I put it more colloquially, the “how many fucks line.”
I want to break down the complexity of the task of making the world more curious to illustrate just how many moving parts are involved and just how many things need to be tackled if you really want to change things.
The first thing to say about people’s lack of curiosity will come as no surprise to anyone who’s read anything I’ve written before. The problem is not a lack of willingness. It’s not about screen time and attention span.
It’s about a lack of access to time. And by time I don’t just minutes and seconds but meaningful time, the kind of time you can use (see this piece on why we have very limited useable time).
I want to explain using an equation. It starts simply but evolves into layers, which feels appropriate. Here it is:
Curiosity = (stimulus + belief) x bandwidth
In this equation, stimulus is what’s available for you to pursue in the situation in which you find yourself. This includes books, online resources, your natural and built environment, social groups, networks, and activities and so on. “Open access” in the traditional sense forms a very small but crucial part of this.
Belief means the extent to which you believe what you do can make a difference. This in itself is complex and a function of your skills, your past experience of creating change, the modelling you are exposed to of people like you making change through their actions, and your perceived connection to the outcomes you want to achieve.
Bandwidth, as we hinted above, means “access to useable time”. That in particular needs clarity:
bandwidth = (security [financial & circumstantial] x health) / viscosity [quantified as the gap between one’s external and internal selves as we experience it in the level of friction in our daily lives].
The first part of this equation — security — is connected to Shafir and Mullainathan’s work on scarcity. They omit the key factor of health somewhat, which is probably more obvious to me as a disabled activist. Interestingly, this positioning of health represents the residual amount of the experience of being disabled that cannot be resolved by the “social model.” The rest of the equation represents the very large part that is dependent on the social model.
Viscosity is a concept that fascinates me. It’s something we all know but find hard to define — at its most basic it’s the extent to which we find life a struggle because the world seems set up for people who aren’t like us. When autistic people talk about “masking” they are referring to this — the fact that in order to operate smoothly in the external world they have to pretend to be something they’re not: but that comes at the grave cost of not being able to operate smoothly in one’s internal world.
Trying to be a little more precise, I would say:
Exercising subjectivity without viscosity is to exist in a space that allows, then enables, then empowers your subjectivity without requiring you to undergo internal change.