Behind all great human accomplishments—from the Sistine Chapel to nanotechnology—lies an initial spark of curiosity. In his latest book, The Practice of Theoretical Curiosity (Springer, 2012), Literacy Professor Mark Zuss (Counseling, Leadership, Literacy, and Special Education) examines the history of curiosity, and its uses in science and public life. The book is volume 20 of the Springer series “Explorations and Educational Purpose.”
“I was trying to make sense of how curiosity is the driving force for research,” says Professor Zuss, who formulated this idea when thinking about what made his students want to learn, or not learn. He worked for more than nine years to complete this academic and interdisciplinary text. “In early times, curiosity was regarded as being detatched—falling in a ditch because you’re staring at the stars. People, even during the Renaissance, ridiculed going out beyond the known world.”
The book delves into a broad range of Western history and areas of innovation that include artificial intelligence, space research, genetics, and social movements, while exploring the broader implications of such pursuits on public life. One major question the text addresses is whether or not curiosity is free or should be limited. “I wondered, where are we going with this?” he says. “Why are some areas of research getting more attention than others?”
He also discusses the uses of curiosity in exploration and exploitation, or the collecting of people and things. Professor Zuss says he was interested in how the exact sciences became supreme, vis-à-vis the richness of sense perception in earlier periods of Western history. “We can always be surprised if we don’t have to explain and define and calculate everything,” he says. “There is an unlimited dimension for curiosity without having to conquer the universe.”
The Practice of Theoretical Curiosity seeks to contextualize what is popular now and explain why human beings are thinking about these things. Professor Zuss, who holds a Ph.D. in developmental psychology from the CUNY Graduate Center, says the book could be used in a broad range of settings, from graduate courses in philosophy to courses on the history of ideas or science.