We're a little crazy, about science!

Intellectually curious

I don’t recall what sparked the memory, but I was reminded today of an email I got from school-PI complimenting my new job. He said I was intellectually curious and that struck me as a touch odd because I assume we all are in our own ways. It’s not that I’m not appreciative of the complement, because I am, it’s just that I never understood how we can live in a world full of mysteries and not want to at least glimpse behind the curtain.

Let’s face it, there’s so much knowledge in the world that we could never learn even a small fraction of it. Maybe one day we can download all the knowledge to our brains Matrix style, but until then there’s just no humanly way to cram that much information into a person’s head. The school system approaches this problem by narrowing the scope of education as you progress.

Up to high school it’s general knowledge math, science, art, history, etc. Some of it is useful, some of it is filler, some of it is just because in the US public school is a free alternative to babysitting. Things change when you hit college (again, US specific) and while there is still a broad scope in which you need to fulfill your degree in most cases, you still focus on a specialty. In my case that was mechanical engineering.

As you progress, things get even further narrowed, your Masters for example, should you choose to do one is often almost hyper focused on the subject of your degree. And finally for your PhD it’s more of the same, you have a very narrow scope and you study the field for years. Your PhD (and masters degree, at least in engineering cases) culminates with you adding to the knowledge we already have.

Think of it as being an adventurer exploring some unknown world. At least that’s how I like to think of it. It’s fun because for a brief moment in history there is exactly one person on the planet who knows something no one else knows. It’s a bit like magic, but real and frankly, more magical. When I first built my robot knee, because that was the first thing I built for my robot, I was the only person in the world to know it existed and what it could do, it was a great feeling.

But while the school system would have me funneling down the same knowledge pool, I’ve charted a somewhat different course. I went from mechanical engineering to neuroengineering and now I work in a lab that focuses on neurophysiology and rehabilitation. It’s not that the things aren’t related, it’s just a different field. I like to think of it as a different approach to the same problem. Which is why I like working between fields like this and connecting things in weird ways to see what sticks.

In any case, I guess getting the complement made me wonder why others wouldn’t be the same way. There are so many mysteries out there that are just begging to be solved or things that work and we have no clue how. It just felt like the default thing to do, ask why or how. I find it very fulfilling to figure something out and it’s probably a case of only having your own perspective for things, but I figure everyone is like that to one degree or another.

And that’s the random thought I had for the day. I couldn’t imagine how else I would spend the brief time I have on this planet though, so of all the nice things to be called, I’ll graciously take being called intellectually curious.

Maybe this is just what happens when you read one too many Sherlock Holmes novels growing up…

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