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OK, How Does This Thing Work?
Getting down to brass tacks.
Welcome to the grounded, practical counterpoint to the nerdy, theory-heavy essay I hit you with last time. (Sorry about that, but also, I guess that’s you warned.)
By the way, if you’re reading this post from Everything Is Amazing outside of your Inbox, you can save yourself future clicks by signing up for free here:
Righty-ho. So where were we?
Everything Is Amazing: The Road Ahead
The picture above is exactly the right visual metaphor for this newsletter.
Here’s exactly the wrong one:
If I tried to make you more curious by giving you nothing but a fabulously detailed map of the things I’m most passionately curious about…
And if I then mechanically dictated the whole route to you, step by step, the same way Google Maps will do if you let it…
…then I would fail in what I’m trying to do here.
Curiosity doesn’t work like that. It’s not a thing you learn by rote. It’s never the fastest route possible. And because it’s a process of discovery, you never know the exact way in advance. It’s all about finding the right direction.
Furthermore, because curiosity is best thought of as a “lust for knowledge,” everyone’s curiosity is easily as diverse as the entire spectrum of human sexual attraction. My curious kink will not necessarily be your curious kink (as it were).
That said - well, someone has to hold the compass here. Someone has to be out front, tripping on hidden tree-roots, plunging into muddy bogs, getting their nethers agonisingly raked by spiky undergrowth. Someone has to serve both as an example and a warning to the others.
For the purposes of this newsletter, I will be filling that role - starting with what we’re doing in Monday’s edition.
Here’s the rough weekly schedule for Everything Is Amazing (subject to change, if alternatives manage to pique my curiosity):
Early Week / Weekends : The Idiot Question Editions
I became an archaeology student 20 years ago largely because of a British TV show called Time Team, pictured above.
In it, a bunch of archaeologists, surveyors and other clever people, led by the bloke who played Baldrick in BlackAdder, descended upon a place in the UK that contained some kind of historical mystery. Did Alfred The Great rally his forces here before fighting back against the Danes? Was this the site of the first Roman road into London? Was this structure a medieval defensive castle or just a really ornate privy? And so on.
Employing a range of magnificent British accents - including digger Phil Harding’s West Country drawl that is now internationally recognised as Standard Hobbit - the Time Team … er, team gave themselves just three days to come up with some kind of answer.
Any professional archaeologist would tell you how ludicrous this is. Digs frequently take decades to be analysed and written up. But the pressure to come up with some kind of answer gave a kind of madcap inventiveness to the whole thing. There was no time to research everything and compile all the available data. They just had to work quickly, think holistically, and ask each other a lot of big, daft questions in a way that played outrageously to the camera.
In a smaller, more personal fashion, and lacking the budget of a primetime Channel 4 mid-90s TV show, this is what I’m going to do. I’ll set myself a question to answer in a short amount of time. Something thoughtful but daft, like the questions kids ask in that funny but good way that always destroys adults on the spot.
I’ll then give myself the whole week to try to answer this question for myself in the most interesting way (or ways!) possible - and sometime in the following weekend, I’ll share what I’ve learned and how I’ve learned it, hopefully giving you a few ideas on how to do the same with questions you care about.
Trowels at the ready, diggers. Arrr.
Midweek: The Deep Dive Edition
Here we’ll be investigating all the things that get in the way of our working NFC (Need For Cognition - a recently proposed scientific metric for measuring curiosity).
We’ll look at how one kind of curiosity has been weaponised by the modern world - making us waste a lot of our online hours, tricking us into spending time and money on stuff we never do anything useful or fun with, and helping drive our existential anxiety even further through the roof. Let’s be clear: all those warnings invoking curiosity that we grew up with (say, that it “killed the cat”) are onto something. Curiosity without focus is a drug. The kind that can seriously mess up your life if you let it.
So, we will focus. We’ll learn the tricks our minds play on us, and we’ll learn to work around them. We’ll learn all the different flavours of curiosity and the spirit of inquiry, and we’ll learn the best times and places to use each one, like tools in a toolkit. We’ll pay attention to how we pay attention itself - and learn how to fight boredom, apathy and the really bad, hopeless kind of misery.
(Yes, there’s a fun kind of misery! We’ll get into that as well. Hopefully won’t get too British along the way.)
End Of Week: The Challenge Yourself Edition
Dear reader: please go forth and do stupid s**t.
I’ll give you a bunch of challenges designed to nudge you out of your normal patterns of behaviour, open your eyes a bit wider, feel a bit more foolish than you normally would. (Because feeling foolish is a state of super-awareness. Yes.)
Right now I’ll be tailoring them for the pandemic lockdowns we’re all patiently enduring. Later, when the world opens up once more, they’ll get more ambitious and thrillingly intimidating. (But there will always be low-key options available, just in case you’re not feeling ambitious with your curiosity that week.)
Your job is thus: you pick one challenge from the list to have a go at over the coming week. Or you could have a go at all of them. Or you can ignore them completely, and make up your own ridiculous challenge based on your own interests. It is entirely your newsletter in this respect. Go, or do not go, nuts.
(But I heartily recommend doing something. Remember The City & the City from my last post? If you never try to see what’s on the other side of the street, how will your view of the world ever change?)
All sound good?
Marvellous. Then week 1 of Season 1 begins tomorrow!
If you know someone else who might like getting in on all this fun, maybe you could let them know by clicking below? (In these early days of building this thing, word of mouth matters so much.) Thanks. You are truly amazing.