Hoping for a Seahorse but a Limpet Might Just Do

here is my usual warning of spelling mistakes, punctuation horrors and possibly ill-thought out ideas. this one is a reaction to peering into rock pools. I haven’t yet found time to reply to people’s comments on last blogs, but thank you to those that left them whether negative or positive ( a much smaller thank you to the negative ones obviously, said through clenched teeth in a mockery of good manners)

One of my favourite train journeys is from London to Cornwall. It is a pleasant, sometimes beautiful, crossing through the pastures and countryside of southern England, but from Exeter St Davids to Newton Abbot it can dazzle and enlighten even when an umbrella of storm clouds overshadow it. The rails are as close to the sea as any train line I know. Tunneling through the cliffs and then almost avalanching onto the coast, it is a vision of the immensity of nineteenth century endeavour. If you are not content mulling over this feat of engineering (while trying to put the number of casualties incurred in its construction to the back of your mind), then you can enjoy the natural beauty of the sea which, on a stormy day, spits on the train windows. And if that’s still not enough, you can enjoy the views of crazy golf and deckchairs that have a nostalgia of things past yet still functioning. It is the remembrance of the smell of a cake immediately followed by being offered a plate of that same cake (I’ve not read Proust, but I’m told smelling cake figures prominently in his work) .

Looking out of the window on Friday, the rocky beaches of Dawlish were busy with children peering into rock pools in threes, fours and fives, looking for something of interest left stranded in a natural zoo created that morning by the tide. As I looked at this succession of images of inquiry, made flick book like by the trains rapid progress, I thought of my own son’s excitement at any crevice or pool. Those hours of holiday hope on the beach, waiting for something to surprise him with its shape or colour or movement, creating a multitude of questions, many of which I probably couldn’t answer without later recourse to my own childhood Ladybird book of the Seaside. This is one unchanging thing. However much society seems to change, whatever dire warnings are given that the delinquents are on the rise, children still look down in rock pools with hope and excitement. Our duty as adults is two-fold, to encourage that inquisitiveness, and to not lose it ourselves.

Carl Sagan once wrote, “Every kid starts out as a natural-born scientist, and then we beat it out of them”. It is a pity that from pub conversations to political diatribes, being cocksure is far more important that being correct.

There should be no shame in being inquisitive, unless your inquisitiveness involves placing video cameras in a public toilet or being overly enthusiastic in prodding dog faeces with your bare hands, but the older we become, the more we seem embarrassed to have questions. Once our schooling is finished, so our questioning must end. It seems better to appear knowledgeable and remain ignorant, than to admit to any limitations. “Why did you burn down the old people’s home?”  “I thought I had misheard the instruction, but I didn’t want to show myself up by asking the lady to repeat herself. Yes, it was a mistake and many died, but let’s remember it was burnt down with confidence, and of that I am proud”.

We pretend to know bands or places or people because it seems to embarrassing to reveal our ignorance – “oh yes, I have heard of Naked Picnic, they’re on Domino records aren’t they?”  “I think I’ve been to Boblangley by the sea, is that where the monastery is made of post it notes and butter?” and so on…

In western civilization, many of us can be blasé about knowledge, once we know the way to the shops and how to plug something in we can get away with the main question of each day being “how much is that?”

We are bombarded by so much information and digital achievement that rather than seeing more, we can become blind to everything. There is so much to notice we end up noticing nothing. When I was sitting in The Camden Head attempting a conversation after a show, I looked around and thought, “less, less”. Obviously the bar is hectic with a multitude of booze brands, then the walls of adverts or imagery of jazz musicians smoking near a trumpet or whatever (I saw them all of them, I saw none of them), then a screen was showing some Samurai set Kurosawa or other while the music was set so loud no one could be heard, yet everyone was talking.

How do we attempt to maintain inquisitiveness?

If talking to teachers is anything to go by, formal education has the problem that targets are frequently set for knowing facts, but less space is made for inquisitiveness or instilling the desire to question and wonder why things are as they are. It is hard to work out an exam to test just how much interest people have in knowing more, so better they know the kings and queens of England by heart (something Michael Gove seems very keen to instill in the young, as if his education policy is hoping to create the best pub quiz team in the world). I am sure most people reading this have a story of them or some friend questioning a teacher’s version of events in class and being slammed down harshly with a hint of Stalinist glare for daring to question the official history. Rather than constantly changing what children learn with faddy curriculum changes, it might be better to think of how they learn and what they are learning for – is it to know, or is it to understand? I know some teachers chomping at the bit to just err a little from the curriculum to inject a little more fascination into their classrooms. At times it sounds as agonizing as John Peel being forced to play the official Radio One playlist with no room for Steel Pulse or The Delgados.

The fun of having children is that it is a constant challenge of finding answers and attempting to work out what may not need to require a full answer now. Oddly, the clichéd child question “why is the sky blue?” is one many of us can’t answer, though numerous sitcom moments should have had us reading up on it by the second trimester. A few weeks ago my son saw someone with cerebral palsy and he wondered why he moved in the manner he did. And so I set about attempting to describe why this man’s body behaved differently to his. At four and a half he many not be able to comprehend it all, but as I talked and worked out my explanation I had a greater understanding by the end of it too. A few days later, on a trip back from the circus, I was talking about an event of a few years ago. My son asked where he was when this happened. I explained that it was before he had started to grow in mummy’s tummy. He then asked where he was. Before I got back any further I was told that we would deal with earlier non-existence at a later date, so my son and I got back to I spy. Hopefully if I bring him up well enough, my son will know how limited I am by about eleven or twelve.

Some say that you need to stop and smell the flowers, but don’t stop at the flowers, look to the trees, the sky, the bus stop, the sand and the pylon. At least once a day every day I find myself wondering “why is that like that?” I take a little extra time out for conjecture, and then I go to my bookshelf, the library or the internet.

In my current show tour show (see www.robinince.com for details. A gauche plug amongst the sentences) I used to talk about being delayed on a train outside Oxenholme. I looked out of the window and realized that it framed more life than there is in the rest of the known universe. There may be a planet with a greater richness and variety of life out there somewhere, but we can be certain that we would have to travel in a method perhaps imagined but not yet possible to have the slightest glimmer of hope of finding such a place. It was a mundane thought but looking out of the window has not been the same since.

It’s that moment of reaching down to grasp a fallen acorn and having that split second realization that the actions of recognition, bending down, and picking up, and at the same time breathing, digesting and hearing, all without any conscious thought, is an achievement of billions of years of heredity, mutation and replication. A bog standard human performing an everyday act that cannot be replicated with the finest factory made equivalent.

When things are new, we marvel at their novelty, but that soon wears off and they are just something waiting for its built obsolescence to occur or to remain forever unnoticed. At End of the Road festival this year, as I was only there for 48 hours I thought I wouldn’t bother with queuing for a shower, instead I relied for the shell of cleanliness that a few baby wipes can provide at morning and night. The idea of daily showering seems so much part of our lives that some people were a little taken aback at my decision even before I could have stunk beyond my normal level. And I thought, go back a few years, bathing was frequently a weekly thing, a horror or delight on a Sunday with an extra one on a Wednesday for the lucky (see the fild Deep End for more background). When hot water became instantaneous it must have seemed like a wonder and yet now if it take 30 seconds for the boiler to kick in we start swearing at the tap.

As Charles Darwin’s letters and books show, when he voyaged with the beagle his mind was frequently “a chaos of delight”. It seems hard to imagine how astonishing the flora and fauna he saw were to man more used to collecting bugs in Victorian woodland, fortunately his evocative writing helps trap the sensation.

“the delight one experiences in such times bewilders the mind. If the eye attempts to follow the flight of a gaudy butterfly, it is arrested by some strange tree or fruit; if watching an insect, one forgets it in the strange flower it is crawling over” [1]

Now we can experience the colours and the alien beauty of Cape Verde or The Galapagos Islands simply by watching television or purchasing a DVD, and the beauty is alien no more. On occasion we walk down a street we have walked down two hundred times before but look up to see a building we’ve never been conscious of before, and we need to be aware that that is one of many everyday things we are not noticing. There should be nothing childish about the childish enthusiasm of looking in a rock pool, it is human enthusiasm and thirst to know.

It only takes a little thought to sit and stare and then just add some thought to that, or to ponder. We think we have no time to ponder, yet how could we have no time when we have time saving contraptions in every corner. What happened to the time saved? I can’t have lost all of it tweeting and watching youtube?

Some people suggest we should live each day as if it was our last, but I wonder if it might be better if we live each day as if it was our first.

We need to tell children and remind adults why we have the society we live in. the television you watch, the hot water you enjoy, the painkillers, vaccines and seaside railways, are all the result of others inquisitiveness. How unthinking and unthankful should we be to enjoy the results of others imagination and questioning, while switching off our own.

 

TOUR NOTE

My Happiness through Science tour, which is on similar things to this post, starts again in  Swindon on 14th September, then off to Leicester, Lincoln, Exeter, Settle and so on. www.robinince.com for all dates

FOOTNOTE

While on the Beagle Voyage, after a day on the Cape Verde Islands, Darwin is awe struck by what he has see and writes, “it has been for me a glorious day, like giving to a blind man eyes”. The poet Ruth Padel, a descendent of Charles Darwin wrote a lovely collection of poems on his life – succinctly title Darwin: A Life in Poems and one is titled Like Giving a Blind Man Eyes. It can be found here.

http://www.ruthpadel.com/poems/from-darwin-a-life-in-poems/


[1] I had thought this excerpt was from Voyage of The Beagle, but can’t find it there. I originally found it in Annie’s Box by Randal Keynes

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63 Responses to Hoping for a Seahorse but a Limpet Might Just Do

  1. Scurra says:

    “Some people suggest we should live each day as if it was our last, but I wonder if it might be better if we live each day as if it was our first.”

    Now that deserves to be in the Big Book of Quotations.

  2. Emma Darwin says:

    Got here via Twitter and J F Derry – glad I did – a lovely piece. And I do agree about that trainline to Penzance.

    But I don’t think it’s a given that education and adults beat curiosity out of us. I decide whether I want to make friends with someone at least 50% by whether they see and know and understand things I want to see and know and understand. They might be a sculptor or they might be a physicist…

    Ruth quotes her biologist mother Hilda Barlow: “I see the point of poets now; they notice things…”

  3. Steve says:

    Great blog AGAIN… you should write more books I think.. It pretty much reminds me of Karl pilkingtons approach to life….. Always questioning things etc…. I try to remind myself of life pre mobile phones n Internet. A time I loved…. Cheers. PS can’t beat a great train sojourn

  4. mknash says:

    It seems to me that once we are adults, our contemporaries take questioning as “testing” or “opening for an argument”. People do not expect that we may actually want to learn something, or hear another opinion, so basically switch to fight or flight mode.

    Lovely post gave me much to think on, and made me smile with my custard creams

  5. Helen Seymour says:

    Indeed, it has always irritated me that, in contrast to how someone would respond to a child, the reaction to an adult not knowing something, or never having heard of something, is all too often some form of unnecessary astonishment – “You’ve never heard of [X]?!!”

    This was so great to read, so yes please write more. And the lines about living each day like it is our first are possibly the most brilliant few sentences I’ve read in a long while.

  6. Bill Keane says:

    I am, like yourself, a fan of Feynman however I always loved the role his Father played in the development of his legendary curiosity. It’s something I’ve tried to emulate with my own children and the example has been particularly useful in encouraging me to stray from my scientific mindset to so many other areas of interest.

    I tell my kids that they should never get bored and that for every topic in the world, there is an expert devoting a life to its study, who jumps out of bed every morning and can’t wait to begin another day of discovery. I never mention that they’re probably not paid very well. Ruins the magic.

    Unfortunately, I do see the dearth of curiosity seeping down through ever younger children. If rote education (and undoubtedly remiss parents) continually reinforce the safety and predicatability of a curriculum bound by a low common denominator, like a “mountain pass” to jobland, then how can they ever soak in the view from such nearby peaks? How will they experience the first exhiliration of discovering something new, that gives momentum to subsequent adventures?

    The first comment on your blog, I think, hints at something I’ve long believed to be a driver for this problem. Scurra rightly applauded your comment “Live each day as if it were your first” and I absolutely believe that a creative mind such as yours DID birth such a wonderful comment without precedent. However a quick Google, annoyingly, turns it up in a few places. This has happened to me and I’m sure to many others, many times. “There’s nothing new under the sun”, right?

    Douglas Adams wrote about “The Total Perspective Vortex” which, for an instant, showed you how insignificant you are in relation to the entire Universe and promptly drove you mad.

    I believe the Internet IS the Total Perspective Vortex. Every time we paint a picture, crack a joke, invent a new technology or dream about that super new website that’s going to change the world ((c) HeadBook), a quick Vortex search shows us “about” 1,000 results all bigger, better and brighter than our original. I think that nips the creative flow so early that many never pursue the path. Obviously there are other benefits, my job as a web developer being one of them!

    How can we catch the “natural born scientists” (and artists, and gardeners, and dancers…) before they tragically rank their own abilities as worthless.

    Just my $0.02 worth! LOL! See what I did there?!

    (Damn. Just Googled it. About 199,000 results.)

    • robinince says:

      damn their eyes, a cliche again. I agree with you about Feynman’s dad, and also his mother teaching him about kindness and laughter

      • matthew says:

        though he was wrong about the English language. He thought it should be spelt phonetically, and constructed logically. There is a language that does that; Latin. And apart from scientific names, it is quite dead.
        The English language is alive with strangeness; your paragraph about the pub had me thinking of ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’. Time, gentlemen, please.

    • Paragraphs 2 and 3 are now my Facebook status, I hope you don’t mind? Eloquently put, thankyou!

  7. lpick87 says:

    My dad spent my childhood telling me to ask if I didn’t understand something otherwise I’d never learn. It’s a piece of advice I’ve always found particularly useful. A lovely article and fine sentiment. Thank you.

    It also reminded me of a train journey from Wicklow or Greystones to Dun Laoghaire in Ireland. The trainline to Penzance sounds rather similar in landscape and possibly just as good a journey.

  8. Aaron says:

    A thoroughly enjoyable read that mirrors my thoughts on the western way of life at times. We can all be on the fast track to nowhere and not even stop to question the basic of ideas.

    I find your analysis of the error in teaching children facts rather than understanding, to be very relevant to the way education failed to inspire me as a pupil.

    I find that not being able to properly comprehend the context of information can lead to dangerous situations where opinons and facts can be hard for people to seperate leading to misinterpretation.

    You’ve only got to ask a few people in the street if they believed we landed on the moon, to find that out.

    The eagle has landed.

    • matthew says:

      Actually, the Eagle has left.
      that’s what so many don’t get, isn’t it? Just because you maybe faked your holiday photos, it doesn’t mean that you did not go on holiday. Just shows how little basic thinking skills we achieve in school.
      I totally agree about education; I had to wait until university before I found education interesting. No fact stuffing, but open discussion and investigation. And that in an arts subject.

  9. Roger says:

    Thoroughly enjoyable and hit the nail on the head. Aaron above mentions the moon, much amazement and befuddlement to be found looking up as well as around, or is that Prof. Brian’s bag?
    Thanks

  10. Jonny says:

    I’m fortunate enough to live and work across the vast expanses of Australia’s Northern Territory’s Barkly Tablelands. Visitors here nearly always fall into one of the extremes; those that see nothing and those that see everything. Large swathes are flat and treeless, ‘boring’. Those same large swathes are packed with grasses, invertebrates, reptiles, small mammals, marsupials and birds. Your article beautifully sums up those differences. However, I find the absolute lack of modern distractions when I’m out bush make inquisitiveness a far easier trait to find. And for that, I am truly thankful….

  11. Thanks for an interesting blog, Robin.

    Looking back on my education, I think I started to notice divisions in the way people behaved in class regarding curiosity and learning when I was about 11 or 12 – around the time when your social world suddenly seems more complex and important, and everybody around you gets increasingly self-conscious (such is adolescence).

    Some people dealt with classroom self-consciousness via reticence – not asking or answering any questions in order to avoid negative attention from peers. Naturally, this can have a negative impact on someone’s education. My way of dealing with the pressure was different – to be a perfectionist student, and be ready with all the correct answers when called upon. On reflection, this strategy was not necessarily much better in the long run – even though it was useful for me (and others like me) in getting good grades etc – as it doesn’t necessarily allow you to become at ease with not knowing, with asking (what may seem to others) to be ‘stupid’ questions, or to be comfortable with living life as if it were ‘day one’, as you suggest.

    While I agree that maintaining a spirit of curiosity is important, and something we ought to encourage (love your line about Gove’s pub quiz team); I think it is made difficult by our systems of secondary education, and the peer pressures that young people experience in their everyday lives.

    I’m not suggesting that our education system can be easily cured of these problems, or should be revolutionised in order to try and do so, but we could perhaps try harder to mitigate the social barriers to expressing/encouraging curiosity which can arise.

    I would think that any such move would have to maintain a sense that education is about more than passing the grade, getting a job/ gaining qualifications which will result in financial gain. It would require a level of ideology beyond the practical – teaching not just skills and facts, but values. To encourage more ‘inquisitive’ individuals would be a matter of instilling values (or if you want to use the term, beliefs) which are not easily recorded on government spreadsheets.

    As an aside – I look on with interest as the debate about faith school continues; I see you have touched on it today in your tweets.

    A few thoughts on this, if I may:
    I find the arguments against faith schools from secularists often evoke the idea of faith schools as homes to indoctrination and brainwashing; but actually, what constitutes brainwashing/indoctrination as opposed to education, and vice versa, is a matter of perspective. I have been lucky enough to experience (in some classes/lectures at least) an education that has encouraged critical thinking. This is something I have always assumed to be the major goal and accomplishment of an educated mind. Yet this in itself is not a universally held truth. For others, my education has not been an education, but a form of indoctrination against their values, beliefs etc. (Even though for some of it, I went to a faith school!). From their perspective, I have been systematically manipulated to be unsympathetic towards their world-view and the things they consider to be important for the future of humanity and the planet; blinded to the ‘truths’ they hold. (Since as an adult I am now not religious, some within my very religious family have expressed regret about the liberal educational process I have encountered).

    In my opinion, the case that needs to made against faith schools is not simply an argument from liberty/freedom or balance/inclusion; though in some respects these may be pertinent. The underlying issue, relating to broader historical change, is that a certain group of people (not motivated by religious faith) have come up with a way of educating young people and developing their minds which, all things considered, they think is simply ‘better’ than the methods previously employed by people of religious faith. (After all, all schools were once faith schools). I think in the long run, it’s better honest about this opposition/development, rather than trying to protect the feelings of people who will always be offended, or appease those who will always be angered. After all, nobody likes to experience defeat, or to be told that their idea is no longer the best idea, when they determinedly and wholeheartedly hold it to be so.

    You might try and argue that secular schools do not prohibit faith, or necessarily express intolerance of it, condescension towards it, or demand any other negative engagement. Rather, they simply create a platform of balance and opportunity. But in all the years that I attended church every week, not one service halted proceedings in the name of balance and equality of religious opportunity. What mattered was the Christian word, the Christian truth, the Christian path. I think sharing an equal platform with other faiths is necessarily problematic from the purview of mainstream organised religions. Why waste time sharing a platform with people who are wrong and misguided (even amoral or evil) when you could be educating them towards to redemption and truth – saving their souls, and the planet? After all: life is short, god is watching, and the judgement/second coming/apocalypse could arrive at any moment.

    The ultimate aim of monotheistic, organised religions is not a score-draw. This is all that secularism offers, so it’s understandable that people of religious conviction are not readily accepting this; and instead, seeking to establish their own faith schools.

    The arguments against such schools from liberty, inclusion or a sort of ‘neutrality’ tend not, in my opinion, to stick. Those who argue (like your twitter provocateur-in-chief today) from a Christian or Muslim perspective that secular schools are just another form of indoctrination have – from their perspective – a valid point.

    I don’t find it easy to see how best to approach this topic of debate. However, by saying no to faith schools, we’re not evading the systematised introduction of ideas into the lives and minds of young people; we are not avoiding ‘indoctrination’, as there will always be someone wanting more faith, and more of a particular faith, in any given educational scenario. ‘We’ as agitators against faith schools, are simply advocating the change (or management) of what kind of ideas we communicate to young people, because we think we’ve found better ones. Well, we know we have. But we’re trying to be nice about it.

    (I know you’re trying especially hard to be nice about it, Robin.)

    Still, I think we have to make the case why non-religious education is better than religious education – even though its a hard/impossible sell and essentially requires advocating comparative atheism – rather than expect agitators of religious conviction to be happy about secularism. They’re never going to like it – it would make, I think, no sense for them to do so. After all, for them, nothing less than the future of mankind is at stake.

  12. Simon says:

    Robin, what a beautifully written blog post – this could have fallen from the pen of Sagan or Feynman . . . wonderfully evocative.

    If we’re adding things to the book of quotations then this needs to go in too – “It seems better to appear knowledgeable and remain ignorant, than to admit to any limitations”

  13. Kinga says:

    Lovely post!

    I agree with everything. Although we have to thank google for restoring some of our child-like inquisitiveness. For me Google has become that parent that I constantly nag with questions: “why is this, where is that, when was this, who was that”

  14. Pingback: Robin Ince’s blog post on being inquisitive | HumanistLife

  15. Lesley-Ann says:

    I’m new to your blog posts and found this via Twitter. This was a wonderful read and I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiment that education is a lifelong pursuit. I’m a Primary School Teacher and find the target led, fact based education system we have, completely at odds with the whole concept of ‘learning’. I also think Michael Gove is a pompous ass.

  16. Machupiku says:

    The fact that I was becoming more and more restricted on what to teach and how to teach it has been part of why l have left teaching. trying to make time to teach them to think became harder and harder. I think my best lessons where ones where they could ask anything and we’d talk about things they were interested in. But those lessons would not pass muster in an observation!

    • matthew says:

      and this is the exact reason why I would not go into teaching. this and the dictatorial employer and the vile distortions of the gutter press. it is not a career with much chance of respect or dignity. very sad really. both my parents were teachers, and my sister is qualified to teach but would rather work on a community garden project; more chance to teach. bitter irony.

  17. Pingback: Hoping for a Seahorse but a Limpet Might Just Do | Robinince’s Blog | You can lead a body to motherhood…

  18. amywriting says:

    I should write a blog entitled “how I learnt to stop worrying about what everyone else thought, and learned to love my curiosity!” It’s only as I have gone through therapy (training to be a therapist) that I realise I have always had a natural desire to know about things. Ultimately that is what has lead me to be a therapist, I want to know…everything. But for a long time, I thought that to ask questions was wrong. Growing up being schooled n the 80’s and 90’s there wasn’t the space for curious questioning – what a pity. I love finding things out with my son – thankfully teaching seems to have changed more towards the encouragement of discovery, and I hope that this doesn’t change any time soon, though as more tests come in I am sure that this will happen.

    I love this blog post!

  19. Sheepdip says:

    Lovely piece Robin. I work as a TA in a first school and see the frustration that some children feel when their supplementary questions are fobbed off with ‘We don’t have time for that, we’ll come back to it later …’ – we never do. Our school is in a beautiful setting next to a park but, despite my offering I have never been asked to take children out to explore, just to wander and pick stuff up *GASP* the risk assessment alone, – well, lets not go there.
    My Dad was proud of my curiosity and says I was always asking questions even though I seem to remember he only ever answered with “Ask yer Mother”, unless it was a question about cricket.
    Glad to have found your blog.

  20. Isabel Brooks says:

    I’m a TA in a primary school. Always looking for ways to assist the teaching to 8 year olds. Filling up the gaps and between the lines. Not being afraid to play the game in the way you describe. Some of us are trying !! When you work with little minds its a privilege and a responsibility. You have to think about how you’ll feel years later, if you spoiled a child’s learning even for one day….
    Thank you. It the start of term tomorrow and i am even more fired up than ever, now!

  21. jtweedie says:

    Excellent post! I really enjoyed reading about your train journey, it was really evocative of time and place – and a perfect accompaniment to the Boards of Canada tracks I was listening to as I read it.

    Darwin’s level of curiosity was almost boundless. To spend five years travelling around the world, and yet be so fulsome in his note-taking is an impressive feat.

    As I grew up, I seemed to lose my sense of wanting to know new things, why things are the way they are. But I started a degree in Natural Sciences, and this seems to have kindled in me a new wish to see the world afresh, or to build on things I already half-knew, but would learn so much more about. This formal education has been a spur to reawaken my own inquisitive self.

    Darwin sums up this seeing things new perfectly in this passage from the Voyage of the Beagle:

    “Delight itself, however, is a weak term to express the feelings of a naturalist who, for the first time, has wandered by himself in a brazilian forest. The elegance of the grasses, the novelty of the parasitical plants, the beauty of the flowers, the glossy green of the foliage, but above all the general luxuriance of the vegetation, filled me with admiration. A most paradoxical mixture of sound and silence pervades the shady part of the wood.”

  22. Abbie says:

    “The idea of daily showering seems so much part of our lives that some people were a little taken aback at my decision even before I could have stunk beyond my normal level.”

    My son has taught me many things, one of which is, after a particularly bad meltdown in the bath, that we don’t need to shower every day, or even every week. Or in his case a year or more, but then he is a teenager now!

    He has never been one to do something just because he was told to do it, he had to know why, and it had to be a pretty good reason. He was a ‘why’ child, always asking why and demanding proper answers. This didn’t go down well at the local Steiner pre-school, so we ended up home educating. Now we enjoy asking why and finding out together.

    Your excellent post sums up how many home educators feel about education. Thanks!

  23. Mark Baker says:

    Interesting and important- and how we are inquisitive is almost as important as that we are inquisitive As a social scientist, looking at human behaviour in a collective context, I wonder what your view is on the balance between qualitative and quantitative methods of enquiry. My own view, for what it’s worth, is that while more scientistic approaches to research can tell us ‘what’, only a more human approach – however flawed – can tell us ‘why’. We have to build the fluctuations of human thought into how we approach what we deem to be ‘knowledge’ as best we can. If I can end with a (possibly misremebered) quotation from Willaim Foote Whyte’s groundbreaking ‘Street Corner Society’, “…as I sat and listened, I learned the answers to questions I would never have though to have asked.” @1630revello

  24. Mark Baker says:

    ‘Thought’, not ‘though’. My goof

  25. James Conmy says:

    Curiosity, especially intellectual inquisitiveness, is what separates the truly alive from those who are merely going through the motions. Get involved, stay young. That sort of thing.
    Great Blog.

  26. Tim says:

    Shortly after reading your piece, Robin, a friend posted her seaside holiday snaps on her facebook feed. One marvellous picture showed my friend’s two children examining a rock pool with just the sense of wonder you describe above.

    I took the liberty of posting your comment on children, rock pools and inquisitiveness beneath the picture.

    My friend replied: “That’s the best quote you’ve ever come up with. Is it you? Love it. That should be page one of every parenting manual ever.”

    (I reluctantly had to admit it wasn’t me, and credited you immediately, of course!)

    A fantastic article. Thanks, Robin.

  27. DD says:

    Lovely – this is really thoughtful and honest. It seems a little random but there’s an online comic site called xkcd which deals with science and maths and life and that sort of thing. In one of them, the illustrator puts forward the point of view that it is far more rewarding to ask and be educated, than to sneer at someone who doesn’t know something. For instance, when his friend didn’t know of a band, he chose to take joy in introducing them to it, rather than making fun of them for it. This seems connected to your article – I think. It’s a good view to hold.

  28. I read it as positive hope – not fear –
    and lovely,
    re the questions about how we might help kids avoid the worst “drumming out of curiosity” to me it begins before school. The child that looks at an oak tree, backlit by the September sun after a rain shower and asks a parent, “What IS that?” –
    needs to hear the wonderment coming back… what they tend to hear is a label. (Its an oak tree)
    we need to at the very least, come alongside them and say, something like, “Isn’t it glorious! that is something. We CALL that tree an oak tree, but look at the way the light is sparkling! and the sounds, what can you hear?”
    the labelling of the world for children is unfortunately the beginning of the closing down of the eyes of wonder…

  29. E says:

    I like this article. I have a little person the same age and we love watching him be investigative and ask Qs about the world (before his world becomes grey and formal in a Year 1 classroom – sob!). He seems aware of his existence and we see roots of existentialist thought. For example, he often stops mid activitiy – sometimes when he is exiting the car – and asks us, ‘Am I really here? Am I actually doing this?’.
    We have spent a wonderful 6 weeks summer holiday enjoying together the types of experiences you mention – the rock pools, digging holes in the garden, making potions, mudlarking on the Thames followed by a zillion Qs about time and history – we have been on a learning journey together. We let him see that we as adults/parents are engaged in life long learning and that the process of discovery never stops and its through asking Qs and engaging with the environment that humans invent, re-invent and progress understandings. The school system is loathsome – untrusting of both teachers, parents and pupils. I feel safe knowing that we are his first educators and that by valuing the and encouraging enquiry and open-ended investigation and experience, we are doing the best we can to ensure he has an open mind and will continue to embrace the world and make sense of it. My most frequent response to his Qs is ‘Lets find out together.’ Its one Gove should note.

  30. Jonathan says:

    Having spent the last few days writing training sessions to try and educate bankers in ethics in an attempt to stop them behaving so badly, but sadly with full knowledge that 1 – they will not want to do the training and 2 – they won’t listen once they have been forced to attend, thank you for reminding me that there is some joy in being a human being.

  31. simonnurse says:

    Excellent piece. Couldn’t agree more. If you don’t stop to watch the world go by, everything will be a blur.

    I just wish I could remember that a little more often.

    (As a further musical aside, Wilco accompanied this comment, but agree – Boards of Canada is a fine choice!)

  32. Pingback: Talking of seahorses and limpets.. « Owens Li'll Slice of the Web

  33. Pingback: Bravus » Robin Ince hits one out of the park

  34. It’s foruitous to read this wonderful blogpost almost immediately after attending (like you) the life-affirming End of the Road Festival. The reason being that a festival such as EotR is a tremendous way to get the inquistiveness juices flowing. For, not only is it likely that in attending one will never have heard of some of the musical acts before, the sheer diversity of fringe activities (such as cinema, authour readings and interviews) and food for sale ensures that there are discoveries to be made in every nook and cranny. Although I attend music festivals to relax (although this year I was working as a volunteer in the box office) I often find it has been anything but relaxing as my brain is brimming full of all of the discoveries I have made and want to follow up on, at the festival. I think everyone should attend some event once in a while, about which they know nothing, or very little in advance – the ignite, TEDx, Story, Interesting and Boring conferences are perfect examples of this. In fact I believe we can be made more inquisitive about the topics covered in such events, than if they were topics I knew more about in advance. I try to adopt some of this philosophy in the lessons I teach in order to keep my students mentally alert. I was at the Olympic Park yesterday along with 300,000 others many of whom I am sure knew not the first thing about Paralympic sport this time a month ago, however they cannot fail to have been inspired by what they saw, whether or not they understood quite what was happening in each event.

  35. Reblogged this on The Skeptical Dad and commented:
    I’ve tried before to articulate my hopes and aspirations for the next generation, in a possibly vain attempt to pass on some of my wisdom (ahem) and experiences. I encouraged a sense of wonder, to be questioning and reason over superstition.

    This was brought back to my mind on reading Robin Ince’s elegant post on inquisitiveness. It captured wonderfully the idea of always questioning the world around that I wished to impart to Harry and Reuben. So I thought I would share it here.

  36. Great blog! Thanks for the inspiration:

    The Death of Curiosity

    Ignorance should never be ashamed
    Nor seek to hide in fear of ridicule
    Complacent knowledge warrants greater blame
    Its glib exponents are the World’s true fools
    They sooner guess than say they do not know,
    Or make some false but self-assured reply
    So keen their seeming expertise to show
    So anxious their own ignorance to hide
    They walk along the same roads every day
    And give directions as we find our way
    And thus, by habit stifled, does it die
    The light that shines from every living child
    No longer stopping to ask how or why
    No longer by this wondrous world beguiled

    13/9/12 Peter Duff cf. http://www.dailypoem.net for more like this

  37. Pingback: Hang on a minute, lads, I’ve got a great idea! « lostanddesperate

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