Curiosity Killed the Cat But it Keeps Us Alive

“I’m not going to die yet, I have to see you getting married and play with my grandkids.”

This is not just a dialogue that eerily repeats itself in many clichéd films and sentimental households. This is something inherent in all of us. Something, besides hope, that makes us want to live even when life appears unworthy: curiosity!

Sowing the seeds

While kids of most mammals would learn how to fend for themselves within months, human kids take years. While a 3-year-old predator would be smelling for blood in the jungle, a toddler would wait for his parents to cook up a story just to take one bite of food. Imagining a spoon as an airplane, just for basic nutrition, is a human thing.

The point is, humans are curious beings. We are born as dreamers, a fact proven by every child’s mystical fascination with the moon. As we grow, we’re fed more dreams and fantasies. We get hooked to them. Gradually, the search to be awe-inspired is coupled with a deep desire to know – everything!

Things as stupid as who the person sitting next to you on a train is talking to, what is going on in your colleague’s married life, what have your classmates brought for lunch and so on. Or, things as complicated as defining blackholes, dark matter, aliens or god.

Curiosity and imagination work in tandem.

Things we don’t know yet, or deliberately overlook, undergo a different form of conception in our brains. However, the process just ends up feeding the insatiable curiosity.

Haven’t you been driven by the mad urge to check the Facebook profile of an ex who blocked you? You’re not together anymore, yet you want to know what’s going on in his or her life. The result? Momentary peace. Doesn’t matter if what you see makes you happy or sad, the restlessness seems to wither.

Nature has given us this wonderful neurotransmitter known as dopamine. Simply put, dopamine is one of the pillars in the human body’s reward-mechanism. The best thing about it is that you don’t even have to achieve anything in order to release it.

Just the sense of achievement is enough for your brain to give you a reward.

Picture this: You get an email for a Skype interview for your dream job in not only a different country but a different continent in a different hemisphere. Before even confirming yourself as available, you sink into a canvas of imagination. Celebrating Christmas in summer, learning a different language, developing your palate for a new cuisine, meeting new people and so much more. One thought succeeds the other until you’re interwoven into the fantasies, completely cut off from reality. Even though it’s not real, the magic of dopamine mesmerises you.

Every thought that you successfully contemplate in your head, releases tiny packets of dopamine. And you wonder why you can’t stop overthinking.

Curiosity and technology

Claims like, “addicted to social media,” “addicted to gaming,” “addicted to TV,” are not unfounded. In the age of information, where data swells like an infected wound, feeding curiosity has become so much easier.

The proverb, ‘Curiosity killed the cat’ came out of the thought that if you intrude too much into someone’s privacy, you can get in trouble. Social media has put that to rest. People are now willingly inviting others into their private lives.

How can you shackle your curiosity then?

How can you stop being curious if your office crush hasn’t liked your picture yet? How can you be at peace if you’ve not won five games in a row today? How can you turn a blind eye to the spoilers of your favorite TV show? How can you stop yourself from opening a new Wikipedia page when you haven’t even scrolled past the one you were already reading?

You can’t.

You can’t even stop checking the weather app four times a day just to confirm that it’s actually hot outside or to check when it’s going to rain. You can’t stop checking the score of a sports match that you aren’t even watching live. You can’t and you shouldn’t.

Curiosity as a gift

Despite its addictive nature, curiosity is a beautiful thing for humanity. It makes us anxious too, but many a time it gives hope, meaning and a reason to go on. People who are suicidal don’t stop being curious; their curiosity stems in imagination that has become malignant.

Their addiction to thoughts is intact, but the thoughts start to reach a literal dead-end. They feel immense pain just thinking how awful it will be to stay alive.

The web of fantasies for them is woven by despair. What they don’t realise is that anxiety is always worse than the actual event.

Noticing that is the first step in tearing through that melancholia. The pain of thinking about a miserable future is as unreal as the aforementioned joy of receiving an interview call from your dream company. Just another illusion created by dopamine and orchestrated by curiosity.

What do you do when a thing supposed to be a gift, turns against you? You become curious about something else! When the things you used to love don’t give the same satiation, real or imaginative, it’s time to switch sides. If you’re in depression, it is always advised to learn a new skill, pick up a new habit, or experience a new culture.

You have to tune your curiosity to something afresh. You have to expand your consciousness and seek unexplored horizons of wonder. You have to unlearn and conceive a new perspective.

Just like an airplane replaced the unappetising food when you were a child, you have to find a new story for everything around you. This time, on your own.

You are a species blessed with the power of imagination, keep trying to make it a good one.

Stay curious. Stay alive.

Akul Sharma is an armchair philosopher, mystic thinker, and a human being trying to figure out the purpose of existence.

Featured image credit: Pariplab Chakraborty