“Wonder is a window from where you are to where you want to be.” ~Neil Degrasse Tyson
“What in the hell were you thinking”? I yelled. “I literally just cleaned the kitchen. And is that,” I paused and pinched the bridge of my nose, sighing deeply, “our good cutlery”?
I looked around at the carnage. Every available surface was covered in Tupperware, each filled with some revolting, gelatinous substance, every viscous blob a different color. One container seemed to be sitting in an ice bath in the sink, another under a desk lamp that was incongruously sitting on the counter where the blender normally lives. I noticed my wedding spoons standing sentry in several bowls of thick goo. A second scan noted Borax, glue, food coloring and…oh dear sweet Baby Jesus…glitter. If there’s anything worse than ants in a kitchen, it’s glitter.
I poked a finger in one mound, the jelly wobbling slightly. My finger came away clean. “What is this stuff anyway?”
“Non-Newtonian fluid,” my child rolled her eyes as if I was asking a crazy question and she pitied me for needing an answer. “I’m testing for viscosity. If it’s truly slime, it won’t be affected by temperature”.
I took a deep breath, trying to forget about the newly mopped floor and the fact my poop would be sparkly for weeks.
Stephen Hawking, the legendary British theoretical physicist, died at age 76 on March 14 (or 3.14, which is National Pi Day AND the anniversary of Einstein’s birth to all you fellow Science Nerds and Mathletes). I had just read a tribute to his scientific legacy. Hawking, who suffered from ALS and communicated via a speech synthesizer, wrote:
“Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious”.
I write a blog about living a life of wonder, yet just had an epic fall to pieces over a dirty kitchen. The consequence of experimentation is sometimes a giant mess. How would Izzie ever figure out in what way things fit together if she is never allowed to tear things apart? My child was simply answering the questions that vexed her, accelerating her understanding of existence (though why she didn’t grab the disposable spoons remains a mystery).
We were intended to ask questions and search for answers. I think about Izzie as a toddler and how many times a day she asked, Why? to make sense of the world.
Why is the sky blue?
Why does Daddy shave his face but you don’t?
Why did the dinosaurs die?
Her father and I agreed that if she was mature enough to ask a question, she was mature enough for a simple but scientifically correct answer. When we didn’t have the answer (Do dogs go to heaven?) we’d turn the tables and ask, “Do you think dogs go to heaven”?
We want her to learn to think for herself, find her own answers.
We don’t want her to simply memorize facts, we want her to learn how to think.
But evidently only quietly and neatly. I felt chagrined. Had I traded in why for who cares? At what point did I abandon my sense of wonder for the norms of adulthood?
And for what end? Research suggests that curious people are happier and less anxious, since our brains release dopamine when exposed to novel experiences. When we are inquisitive, we tend to search out various points of view, causing us to be more empathetic, decent human beings. It would seem that the most successful humans are in fact the ones who tried it, poked it, questioned it, smelled it, ate it or tore it apart.
So how do we cultivate curiosity? Firstly, we must admit how limited our current knowledge is. Only a fool believes himself truly wise. Most of us know what we don’t yet comprehend far outweighs what we think we understand. From the vastness of the galaxy to the Higgs boson particle that’s smaller than an atom, from the tiniest firings of our mind’s neurons to the Huge-LQG quasar that’s over 4,000,000,000 light years away from our green, cosmic speck, there are enormous mysteries to yet unravel. We still don’t understand the properties of dark energy, though we know it exists. We haven’t yet discovered all the organisms that endure at the ocean’s floor. Einstein’s theory of relativity proved that time is more fluid than previously thought, opening the door for possible future time travel.
We should continue to see the world with child-like wonder. Observing the world with fresh eyes makes visible exciting things that lurk beneath life’s surface. A child is never bored, because there are new things to constantly attract their attention. Be open to learning, unlearning and reshaping what you thought you have already learned. Curiosity keeps you interested, engaged and entertained. As Hawing wrote, “I am just a child who has never grown up. I still keep asking these how and why questions. Occasionally I find an answer”.
I pick up the slime and start playing.