Can you be creative without being curious?
I find myself curious to learn the answer to this question. On some level it seems like asking if you can enjoy peanut butter without peanuts. Loads of creativity scholars tell us that curiosity is what drives creativity. But what if forces in our lives reduce our level of curiosity?
I want to live in a world with more curiosity, not less. Intellectual curiosity can help you succeed in college and nail a job interview. It also makes you far more interesting to talk with at a dinner party. And it leads to the kind of whole-brain thinking that inspires creative output. But I would feel more comfortable if I knew that society’s volume and quality of creative output was not directly correlative with our level of curiosity. In other words, I don’t want creativity to be a dependent variable of curiosity.
What is driving my concern? It is a nascent fear, one I’m almost hesitant to commit to words. It is a theory that will invite ridicule from the evangelists of the modern age. But I can’t help but think that the latest breakthroughs in technology could dampen our curiosity.
A company that derives its name from the word for a very large number–1 followed by one hundred zeroes–has hired as its director of engineering Ray Kurzweil, the visionary who predicts we are approaching a “singularity” where we become one with machines. Now it would be too easy to list the parade of horribles I envision from my consciousness being consumed in a global network of artificial neurons. But Kurzweil’s employer will benefit from his research in artificial intelligence because it will be able to better predict what we want to ask before we ask it. That, folks, is the future of online search.
All of us carry in our pockets now a device that would like to claim it can answer every question. We don’t even have to type it in; we just speak into it and it spits out its answer. This capability has ground to a halt more than one interesting dinner party conversation because one party will confirm their hypothesis with Siri. But perhaps more is lost with this capability than simply a fun exchange of hypotheses over starter salads. Search engines want to predict our questions. Maybe knowing that answers to basic facts are within reach will change the way we ask questions.
Creativity may be the result of curiosity, but curiosity is all about asking the seemingly unanswerable question. A smartphone tells us what is; it cannot tell us what might be. An open-ended what-if question cannot be answered by a search engine, at least not until Kurzweil melds our brains onto smart chips. But what if we are becoming so satisfied by receiving instant answers to our questions that we stop asking ones that can’t be instantly answered?
By the way, when I asked that popular search engine the opening question of this post–Can you be creative without being curious?–there was of course no direct answer.
Now you know why I hope that creativity is not dependent on curiosity. If access to ever-greater knowledge inadvertently dulls our curiosity, at least creativity will continue to thrive. We’ll need those creative thinkers, to provide us some distractions from our devices and to spice up our dinner conversations.
ADDENDUM, MARCH 5, 12:45 PM ET: One thing I do know is that The Artist’s Road has some of the most intellectually curious and creative readers a blog could ever want. I’m loving the thought-provoking comments I’m seeing here already, only a few hours after posting.