Leonardo Da Vinci was more than an excellent painter. The Renaissance man of Renaissance men was perhaps one of the most intellectually well-rounded individuals to ever live, having made strides in every field he touched, from anatomy to warfare machinery. In one of Da Vinci’s famed notebooks, he assigned himself a task that I doubt is on any of our to-do lists: “Describe the tongue of the woodpecker.”
That is curiosity at its finest. Describing the tongue of the woodpecker is not immediately practical knowledge for anyone, and it wasn’t really “practical” for Leonardo, either. However, he still drove himself to study the tongue of the woodpecker (and countless other seemingly useless topics) and derive some sort of understanding from these studious detours. That’s curiosity.
This seems to directly conflict with what we mentioned in Part I about obtaining just-in-time knowledge rather than just in case, but this is different. The just-in-case knowledge that we get from institutions has been taught time and time again to thousands of students. By spending time learning what everyone else has already been taught just in case they need it, we are missing out on the chance to go be curious about the things that nobody has questioned before.
Curiosity is also the best way to find and test careers. By being curious enough to try out various jobs and career fields, you allow yourself to learn quickly whether or not they are for you. That only comes by being willing to try, willing to question, and willing to validate your findings. If you’re never curious enough to sit down and learn something completely new and unrelated to what you do, then you’ll never discover what you need to discover.
This is the reason that advocating for curiosity is not the same as arguing for just-in-case knowledge. Being purely curious, despite the lack of practical knowledge and application you gain in the short term, still serves a clear purpose: your own enrichment. That’s a long term endeavor that should never end.
It’s not about learning a skill set required for a certain job, or studying for the next test so that you can become certified by someone else’s standard. Being curious and asking the odd questions means developing a new, unique set of knowledge and insights. This is the foundation from which later on we will be able to connect the dots looking backwards.
Next time you see a flower, ask yourself why it blooms the way it does. Then go find out for yourself, using whatever resource you can find on the internet. Next time you use a straw, ask yourself who invented it and when. Then go find out for yourself. Next time you see a woodpecker, ask yourself how its tongue works. Then go become the greatest Renaissance man to ever live.