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..:: Curiosity ::..


Alan Schneider


             Human beings exhibit an endless curiosity about their circumstances and the conditions of their existence. This curiosity may be defined as the need or tendency to continuously seek out and investigate new stimuli in the environment. This essay presents an investigation into this phenomenon, its possible psychological and spiritual coefficients, and its long term implications for ourselves and the planet. 

            To begin with, where does curiosity originate in consciousness?  Why do some among us display copious amounts of this characteristic, and others less so, in varying degrees?  How and why do we choose what to investigate from among the plethora of options in the environment of collective human perception?  

            Addressing the first question, I once heard a very accurate description of human behavior from the instructor of a California junior college photography class, “People scan the environment, and fixate on objects and conditions of interest: we scan and fixate.”  The utterly accurate simplicity of this statement as a description of human behavior stayed with me thereafter.  It remains perhaps the best synopsis of what we are (as defined by what we do) that I have experienced. The obvious implication here is that these are natural, inborn consequences of human nature, and are biologically and neurologically inevitable.  This is the basic mechanism of observation, and is universally practiced by all but the completely psychotic and permanently comatose, the former displaying no evident integration of purpose in their behavior, and the latter displaying no behavior at all.  In all other cases, scan and fixate is what we will do as the basic expression of what we are.  

            What we will fixate on as we scan the internal and external environments introduces additional levels of complexity into the initial observation of my old California instructor.  The unmodified human consciousness would very probably fixate, or pause and focus,  at frequent intervals on just about anything, as determined by biological drive states such as hunger, thirst, exposure, libido (at any psychosocial stage of development), anger, fear, or confusion, to name a few of the major factors known to motivate our behavior and perception.  But, even in the presence of the gratification of these transitory deficits, it appears that we nonetheless continue the root behavior: scan and fixate. There must be a psychological driver that motivates this fundamental behavior pattern apart from appetite gratification – our behavior must amount to more than psychological hedonism, the tendency to seek pleasure and avoid discomfort.  Now, to be sure, there are obviously many among us who do not display much more than the aforementioned hedonism as factors in their behavior (and mores the pity) but many of us still do demonstrate a heightened degree of standing native curiosity, the presence of which has accounted for all human progress throughout history.  What and where is the driver that accounts for curiosity and inquiry?  

            I wish to postulate a subconscious trait for the consideration of the reader at this time – we could call this trait the agitator.  Of course, if the reader does not respond positively to this term, I invite the use of another that is more likable on the basis of personal valence, but this is at least someplace to start.  There appears to be an inherent restlessness operating at the foundation of the central, and perhaps even the autonomic, nervous system – we are never satisfied for long with anything, causing the resumption of the scan-and-fixate activity shortly after every gratification, at least in the case of the higher-functioning among us. I personally suspect that there is an inborn agitator trigger mechanism, probably neurochemical in nature, and synoptically active, that accounts for the variance of this characteristic in the human population, although the relative size and complexity of the brain could very well also be a factor. Although this trigger mechanism has not really been isolated and identified (at least to my knowledge), there are various theoretical references to something like it in psychological and spiritual literature. Freud referred to the fundamental driver of behavior and consciousness as libido, and specified it as fundamentally sexual in nature.  Jung referred it as archetypal, and postulated it as originating in the Primal Self, the root archetype of consciousness. Yoga and Tantra refer to it as Kundalini Energy, and further define it as being essentially female in manifestation, and a reflection on the Physical Plane of the ultimately female force lying at the root of all Creation in the universe beyond even the highest Planes – the Brahman.  The Greek philosophy of Plato and Aristotle simply refers to a Prime Mover beyond which no other causality exists, or a First Principal of manifestation. The German philosopher Hegel refers to the Dialectic of Creation – thesis, antithesis, and synthesis, but does not specify what, or where, the First Thesis might be.  And many of the proto-religions of the ancient world postulated an agitation or turbulence occurring within a Primal Void as a first condition of existence, of course with a number of local variations on the theme. 

            The discerning reader will note that we have rapidly moved from the at least tentatively scientific to the purely conjectured in this progression of theories.  Preferring to err in direction of science, I will pursue that vein of inquiry here.  The term “trigger mechanism” implies the occurrence of certain levels of presence operating with reference to a phenomenon.  Presumably, when a cycle of fixation has completed, and particularly when a successful gratification episode has taken place, our threshold of curiosity has dropped momentarily below the necessary trigger level to actively resume scan-and-fixate behavior, this in the presence of organismic satiation.  The lag period may be relatively short or long, depending on the biological and neurological circumstances involved, but the SAF behavior will inevitably resume as soon as the trigger level is again reached.  What is the psychological drive that accounts for this threshold manifestation? Why is our consciousness so inherently restless?  

            It would appear that we are driven as manifest creations to actively seek through our environment for no other purpose than the discovery of novel information.  Nor are we the only creatures on Earth to demonstrate this behavior – most of the higher functioning creatures demonstrate some degree of this investigative capacity, including virtually all mammals, and some fish and reptiles. Even insects will probe the environment in response to biochemical cues of several kinds.  In fact, even unicellular organisms like the amoeba demonstrate the quality of irritability, the tendency to move away from unhealthy circumstances. It would seem that anything zoological possesses this trait of fundamental environmental response to some extent. If nothing else, this means that curiosity has evolutionary survival value for a species, presenting as no surprise that we, as the dominant species on the planet have so much of it.  

            Beyond this, what remains for consideration is the underlying structure of reality that seems to have ordained this characteristic with such overriding importance.  This would imply that there is a chaotic strange attractor for curiosity and inquisitive behavior residing beyond the threshold of direct observation that accounts for such theories as libido, archetypes, and Kundalini. What might this attractor be?  

            Within the rubric of science, the physical universe as we know it was created some fifteen billion years ago by the emergence of a primordial explosion from an incredibly compact micro-singularity – the “Big Bang” theory of cosmology.  What ever else it might have been, this event was an expression of the utmost violence, and generated a standing wave of turbulence that has not yet dissipated, and probably will not for many billions of years into the future to come, if ever.  So, we may say that turbulence and change are the basis of all reality.  Anything that deviated from these conditions simply could not exist for long in this continuum of observation – the “agitator” mechanism resultant from the “Big Bang” would simply overwhelm and reabsorb it into the fundamental condition of background turbulence. We see this mechanism manifest at our human level of observation in the conscious phenomenon of curiosity – and even the unconscious or peripherally conscious basal action of the sleeping central nervous system resists stasis, as indicated by dreams, rapid eye movement, changing resting position, and even occasional sleep walking and other rare behavioral disturbances.  In this sense, we ourselves are physically mirroring the initial turbulent event of the Creation of the material universe.  

            Turbulence may be the ultimate strange attractor, as the driver of all chaos and chaotic manifestation inferentially knowable.  On our human level, it would appear that we have no choice but to act, to perform deeds and thoughts (mental phenomena are actions occurring on another scale of manifestation, but actions nonetheless) in the environment.  Now, an interesting theory of Yoga is that all actions of any kind that are not specifically devoted to God and Divinity will inevitably generate Karma – the tendency for even more actions to occur – while Divinely inspired or conceived actions constitute Dharma – the opposing tendency for the consciousness of the observer to experience peace and repose through Enlightenment.  In this sense, the turbulence of the universe and this existence, including my hypothetical “agitator” principal, are the objects of conscious observation by an unmoved and unmoving focus of observation.  This clearly cannot be the Freudian ego, motivated as it is by the quest for ever-transitory gratification, and is more clearly analogous to the Hindu Atman or Christian Soul, residing at a level beyond the physical forms of the body, the environment, and the universe.  The well-known Eastern methods of practicing Yoga, meditation, and austerity as means of quieting the little mind (i.e. the ego), and thereby accessing the Great Mind (i.e. the Divine Self) grant both the perception and strengthening of the bond between the inner observer and the Self of which it is an extension.

            Thus it would appear that there is an end possible to even the most basic physical human tendency to investigate through curiosity.  If this investigation is carried into the inner realm of consciousness, as it almost certainly will eventually be by even the most profligate extrovert, the observation of the observer by the observer will take place at some point in the investigative process.  This fundamental observation will initiate contact with the realms of experience beyond the physical and personally psychological, opening the doors of a spiritual manifestation and understanding that exist beyond the prevue of science. I once heard a wise one describe the knowable essence of  existence as “God pouring God into God” as a standing, absolute, changeless condition beyond which nothing more could, or needs to be, known. If this is the case, then there may also be a strange attractor for absolute peace present beyond the threshold of chaos, indicating that chaos itself is neither turbulent nor stable, but is the result of our choice of how we observe it when we look into the mirror of the Self.


                                                                                 - With Love, Alan -

                                                               (Copyright 2009, by Alan Schneider)


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