A Billion Stars

I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious. – Albert Einstein

If you and I were to go out for coffee, I would ask you a lot of questions. Not because I am nosy, but because I am curious. I am fascinated by people and the human experience. I’m fascinated by life and non-life and everything in-between. The more I ask questions, the more I learn; and the more I learn, the more I contend with the dichotomy of the finite knowledge in my head and the infinite knowledge in the universe.

Recently, I came across Emilie Wapnick, founder of Puttylike and coiner of the term “Multipotentialite.” She advocates for people who do not have one true calling, for people who thrive in the pursuit of multiple interests throughout their lives. She argues that exploring various subjects without the intention of establishing a career in that field is worthy because curiosity itself is worthy.

“I hope that one day we live in a world where support and encouragement exists, even when a path doesn’t lead to a prestigious career. I hope we live in a world where the praise is for the intellectual exploration itself, because there could be no more worthy endeavor than seeking to understand the world.”

I believe we need to reclaim Emilie’s type of thinking with fervor. Curiosity is not what people with a lack of focus do and it’s not what people who are bored do. In fact, I think curiosity is the opposite of boredom. Innovation, exploration, and creativity are brainchilds of the curious.

Curiosity expands our minds and our minds expand the world.

Even if you have a singular interest – a deep passion for one thing – then dive into that one thing deeper and deeper. Explore all of the facets of that interest and get really curious. Because, with everything in life, you’ll find you can always go deeper.

I have a new niece, and even at one month old, she is so curious. She is the proverbial sponge. But, it makes me wonder why curiosity is often, in our minds, reserved for children. Why have so many adults lost their sense of wonder? Why is exploring the world around us something we do on vacation and not something we do everyday? Are we too busy or are we simply afraid?

Curiosity is not some sort of “Pandora’s box.” Studies have been done showing there are numerous mental, physical and social benefits to curiosity and the rewards outweigh the costs. There will always be risks associated with unfamiliar territory, but it is a risk we have to take for ourselves and for the world.

Eleanor Roosevelt said:

“I could not, at any age, be content to take my place by the fireside and simply look on. Life was meant to be lived. Curiosity must be kept alive. One must never, for whatever reason, turn his back on life.”

Do we take our own curiosity that seriously? Do we look at our lack of curiosity and think of it as turning our backs on life?

I argue that we should.

The world needs our curiosity. The next big idea, the next invention, the next new discovery is waiting for someone like you to find it. You don’t have to be a genius or a specialist or a PhD. You just have to be curious. Even the people we see everyday are waiting for someone to take interest in them. People are like oceans – they are deep and beckoning to be explored.

While being curious about curiosity, I came across a TED Talk by the physicist Brian Cox. I found his explanation of the Type Ia supernova to be quite beautiful, which I will try to summarize in an inevitably less eloquent fashion. A Type Ia supernova is generally a carbon-oxygen dwarf star that has a companion star orbiting around it. This dwarf star draws gas from the companion star until it has reached its full mass. Then, in a display of galactic brilliance, the carbon-oxygen dwarf explodes – emitting energy and elements into the universe. These elements, in turn, become other stars and planets. According to Cox, the light from the explosion only lasts a few weeks, but is brighter than a billion stars combined.

I wonder if the carbon-oxygen dwarf is not a metaphor for our curiosity. Perhaps, we draw our energy from learning about the people, places and things that orbit us. And, even if only for a brief moment in time, we explode with the energy we’ve received. We release our ideas into the world with the brightness of a billions stars.

2 thoughts on “A Billion Stars

  1. When my brilliant younger sister was alive, she had a goal of learning one new thing everyday. She was one of the most intelligent people I have ever known and yet knew that there was always room for growth. Since her death, I have also adopted her goal of learning or researching one new thing everyday. It doesn’t matter how big or small it is; just that you do it.

    1. This is a great daily practice, especially for people who may not have a natural inclination towards curiosity. Thank you for sharing your sister’s idea!

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