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In Praise of Curiosity

by Beata Bishop(more info)

listed in holistic psychotherapy, originally published in issue 134 - April 2007

Now let me see, where does that word come from? Ah, of course, it’s from the Latin – curiosus, meaning inquisitive or assiduous, and that’s exactly what I intend to be here and now. To my mind, curiosity is one of the great gifts of humankind; it is what drives creativity and inventive-ness, art and science. It appears first in early childhood, in the insistent questions of the small child, trying to understand its world, that can go on all day – what? where? who? when? and above all why? It appears last, sadly, when a very old person endlessly keeps repeating the same question, being unable to remember the answer. And between those two extremes, constructive adult curiosity does its work. “What if…” thinks the researcher, the scientist, the artist, the creative man or woman, trying out a new possibility, in order to see what happens. Success or failure, it’s worth the effort. Curiosity is a noble appetite that’s never satisfied.

It’s an interesting thought that according to the Biblical creation story, it was curiosity that determined the future of freshly created humankind: Eve’s curiosity, which made her pick and eat the forbidden fruit from ‘the tree of the knowledge of good and evil’. She did so not just because the fruit seemed pleasant, but because it was ‘to be desired to make one wise’ – a remarkable ambition from someone so recently born from Adam’s rib. As we know, that ambition was duly punished, with divine anger and banishment. However, looking at the story from the psychological point of view, Eve’s trespass brought about
the birth of human consciousness.

As soon as curiosity leads us to explore the difference between good and evil and seek wisdom, we become conscious – and get thrown out of the Paradise Garden of sweet unconsciousness. Out there we need to stand on our own feet and start on the stony, thorny, inevitable path of inner and outer  development, the only path worth following.

Curiosity works on many levels. At the humblest it makes us try to peer into our personal future: what will it bring, what should we prepare for? These days, people use a multitude of tools, from the I Ching and the Tarot to the Runes and the Pendulum, in search of answers. Utter rubbish, scoffs the enlightened  individual, furtively glancing at the day’s horoscope in his/her newspaper… At the highest level, curiosity is focused on serious research, whether exploring the nature of the Universe or the awesome complexity of the human body. And again, between those two extremes, it is our job to remain alert and curious, ask questions and not be fobbed off with half truths and weasel words.

We live in a world of brilliant brain-washing advertising, several kinds of spin, and uncertain moral principles. To remain sane and know the difference between good and evil (we owe that to Mother Eve), we need to question a lot of things and use the young child’s favourite battle cry, namely why? “Unthinking respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth,” said Albert Einstein, whose own curiosity about the nature of reality changed the world for ever.

Beside psychotherapy, my professional work also includes research into nutritional medicine, particularly in the treatment of cancer. Now, that is a topic that regularly attracts fierce attacks from eminent professors of medicine, who regard all unorthodox practitioners as snake oil salesmen, charlatans and worse.

Whenever one of these broadsides is fired, I get slightly depressed for two reasons. One is that judging by their objections, the distinguished attackers haven’t got the faintest idea of what exactly they are attacking in such colourful language, and secondly I deplore their total lack of curiosity about what those of ‘the other side’ have to offer.

The practitioners of modern medicine take pride in their scientific approach. But surely the hallmark of the true scientist is the need to find out, explore, examine and question, to remain eternally curious, not to dismiss out-of-hand whatever doesn’t fit into a pre-fab framework of reference.

However, there we are. Apparently ‘scientific’ can mean more than one thing. All we can do for the time being is to maintain, guard and cherish our own curiosity. It’s the only tool we have to find out and understand more, keep an open mind and discover better ways of being and healing.


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About Beata Bishop

Beata Bishop is a writer, lecturer and psychotherapist in private practice, working along Jungian and transpersonal lines. Her special interests include the role of the spiritual dimension in all kinds of healing, and the body-mind link in sickness and health. Her book, A Time to Heal (First Stone Publishing, 2010), describes her journey from life-threatening cancer to robust health using an unorthodox nutritional therapy. She can be contacted on e-mail:

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