Curiosity Trip

Chatting with my 5 yr old, I realized that she had a particular resistance to the words “I don’t know.” It was an indication that I had to put something to an end for her, and “I don’t know” if it was fear or something else. I just don’t know. What I knew was, she had to become comfortable.

We started with the concept of asking “why” more. She prides herself heavily in knowing answers, and like most kids, takes a lot of joy in the praises therefore. Once we settled, she quickly asked me, “why is it ok to say I don’t know?” My job was half done, and I was sufficiently pleased with Vasvi. If anything, I told her, “you will never know everything, I don’t know the answers to most questions.” For brevity here, I did explain that “I don’t know” is the beginning of knowledge. There is no end, and when no one knows the answer, you have the intense potential to make meaningful impact. The trick is to know what is already known to get to the limits of available knowledge.

The conversation was sparked when we read an article on a quote from Einstein, that was about spending most of the time on a problem, than thinking about its solutions. In a recent interview, this was my biggest peeve. The candidate jumped to solving the problem in the first few minutes, without analysis or questions on the problem itself. At the end of the interview, when the algorithm chosen didn’t solve the corner cases of the data structure provided, I did mention, “I wish you asked me about ‘why’ I was even posing this problem.”

Most people presume that the world around them is in some harmony. This is what I want to prevent my daughter from sliding into. The harmony is a good thought, not exactly reality. Making your kids understand that the last generation doesn’t exactly have their ducks in a row, is what drives us forward. The sooner they get it, the more curious they become.

Ultimately, curiosity evolves the cat. A couple of hours I spent chatting with my father this weekend brought back some intense curiosity about how do ATM machines verify currency – that was easy to answer. What stumped me was, “how did they do it in 1980s? There were no scanners.” After a minute of googling it, the term ‘magnetic ink’ lit the bulbs. One thing led to another and I had a huge spike of curiosity, meaningful enough to keep the rest of the weekend interesting.

The only challenge is, curiosity to me, is not to be driven in the direction of what cannot be known because it is dependent on human reaction. In other words, if sound and unemotional logic cannot be tied back to a reason, the trip is unworthy. Vasvi agreed, but did not ask why. That is a discussion for to tomorrow, and it may turn out that she enlightens me to prove me wrong.