Curiosity piqued by theme at Sunday Assembly London

They say that curiosity killed the cat, but I'd suggest that curiosity has led to most, even arguably all, scientific advances, and those in many other areas of human endeavour. It is also a brilliant life skill, and as I discovered recently, could even be an expression of love. This was explored at a wonderful Sunday Assembly London, which had the theme of 'Curiosity' and inspired this blog.

The Cambridge dictionary defines curiosity as "an eager wish to know or learn about something". And the main speaker of this curious Sunday Assembly, Steve Mould, certainly demonstrated it, and because of this has had the "Mould Effect" named after him. A few years ago, he tried a little experiment where he fed out a 50-metre-long bead chain out of a jar, and what spectacularly occurred was the chain leapt into the air first before cascading to the ground.

A few years ago he filmed himself doing this, and to date it has received over 1.7 million YouTube hits. Thousands of people speculated why this was, just as we did when Steve leapt on the Sunday Assembly stage to demonstrate this phenomenon. The answer finally came when two Cambridge physicists convincingly explained it, and gave the effect it's eponymous name (something which Steve is justifiably proud!).

Deeper Curiosity

This was mainly a bit of fun, but this interest in curiosity went to a deeper level when our host for the morning, Charlotte Coates, mused on her day job. She works for the charity the 'British Burn Association'. Charlotte extolled the virtues of curiosity to her, as it had in her view led to many discoveries which meant saved lives and relieved much suffering.

This all got me musing on how curiosity plays out in my life. An area which I find this relatively easy in is trying out new things. Friends have observed to me the relish that I approach trying out fresh stuff. It's certainly a lot of fun, and at times challenging, as I encounter the fear of the unknown. As children are also endlessly curious it might just help keep me young too! A couple of developmental psychologists observed "Children are born scientists. From the first ball they send flying, to the ant they watch carry a crumb, children use science's tools—enthusiasm, hypotheses, tests, conclusions—to uncover the world's mysteries. But somehow [the older we get, we] seem to lose what once came naturally."

The area that is a work in progress for me is curiosity about people's motivations and stories. My career history suggests an aptitude for insight. Whilst this is a blessing, particularly in my role, which is to deliver engagement and change programmes for sustainability, it can also be a curse, if it leads me to make assumptions. This is because, as the saying goes, "assume, and it can make an ass out of you and me". Being curious about others, means not only I get to find out what is really going on for them, but also means I can work out how to better design my programmes, and is deeply grounding and humbling.

Feeling the love

Therefore, I've found the more curious I am, whether it is an exciting new experience, or about the inner landscape of other humans, the more in flow I feel. For me one expression of love is the feeling of flow, and we all want to feel more love don't we?!

To round off this tale of curiosity, another of the speakers at Sunday Assembly also got me thinking that about the essence of romantic love… and how it could be curiosity. Julia shared with us a quote from the book Stoner by John Williams which resonated: "love is not an end in itself, but a process through which one person attempts to know another".

So there we have it: I found out at Sunday Assembly that in addition to discovering the Mould Effect and how to heal burns, curiosity is a many splendored expression of love!