Why?: What Makes Us Curious, by Mario Livio
This is a book that could have been better than it was. When it comes to books on creativity, sooner or later most authors make some sort of wild evolutionary speculations. And while it takes a while for that to happen in this particular book, once it does it becomes obvious that the author is not so much interested in curiosity from the point of view of how its history actually is but rather on how it is imagined to be given the fact that we are creative extrapolated from an imagined evolutionary past. What we write depends to a great extent on what belief systems that we bring to the subjects we write about, and if this book is certainly not the worst example of it, it is a clear enough example of it that we ought to at least recognize what will make it good or bad in the eyes of its readers depending on the worldviews that they will bring to this book and others like it. That is not to say that this book is entirely worthless, because it does at least have something worthwhile to say about curiosity and how it improves our lives, but this book could have been so much better.
This particular book is about 200 pages long and begins with a look at a curios story by slightly overrated American author Kate Chopin (1), after which it contains chapters that focus on the creativity of Leonardo Da Vinci (2) and Richard Feynman (3), both scientists noted for their intense creativity. After that, the next three chapters spend a great deal of time focusing on curiosity about curiosity, discussing the question of information gaps and how it is that people resolve them (4), the way that some people have an intrinsic love of knowledge that drives them to read and understand more than others around them do (5), and the neuroscience, such as we understand it, behind curiosity (6). The author gives a brief account of the rise of human curiosity in the aforementioned evolutionary speculations, seeking to ground his ideas about curiosity in what is thought of as scientific by our contemporary generation (7), and also talks about the question of curious minds (8) and why it is that we have curiosity (9). Admittedly, the author seems not to understand the high amount of dogmatic pretensions to knowledge that our society and our age currently has, and overstates the amount of curiosity and open inquiry that exists among his like-minded cohorts. After this there is an epilogue, notes, bibliography, credits, and an index.
If the author understands that we lack a great deal of insight and understanding about the origins and nature of curiosity, he does at least make sure in this book to provide some examples of how it shows itself in creative as well as scientific pursuits. This is a book that is not as offensive as others of its kind, even if it represents somewhat of a missed opportunity for an author to show some humility and avoid the sort of hypocrisy by which people presume knowledge on something they are ignorant about and then manage to pat themselves on the back for being so open-minded and so unlike the pretentious people of previous generations who pretended they understood the cosmos when all they had was received ignorance from the past. Let him who is without sin cast the first stone. The author would have done better to have shown his curiosity about curiosity in such a way that did not involve making obviously false claims directly contradicted by his own behavior. Nevertheless, it is perhaps too much to expect humility from those who think they know it all already.