Curiosity, the Mars rover. Photo Creds: NASA

This week in one of my subjects titled “Structure and Function in Dentistry”, a very wise lecturer in oral anatomy said something that struck me as she discussed tooth embryology:

“Stay curious, because curiosity is what drives you to keep learning.”

As she continued speaking, I was smiling gently underneath my facemask.

The notion of curiosity seems to be deeply innate, being entrenched in the human condition. The inquisitive desire to know something is certainly very much the powerhouse that has driven human discovery, plaguing the minds of each one of us. Without it, who knows where mankind would be today? Would we have discovered how to design tools in being more effective hunter-gatherers? Would we know how fire works? Would we know why an apple can fall from a tree, or why do the planets travel in non-linear and strange paths in the sky? Would we have found a way to land on the moon, would we live in the digital metropolises that we accommodate today?

In my days in high school, I would often get quite frustrated with the current education system. Often, my questions were met with the Vanilla cop-out reply by teachers: “it’s not in the study design – so it’s not relevant and we won’t be covering it”. However, there were a few exceptions to such a reply.

I recall having a discussion with my all-time favourite teacher during a typical lunch break. We discussed a physics concept of why a magnetic field is able to generate electromotive force via the right-hand rule. I consequently asked him as to why exactly can a magnetic field generate a force, of which to me, the two ideas seemed to be such disparate concepts, and so appears to be an extremely random relationship. He mentioned something that I would never forget.

“Science is very much about understanding how things work, but not really why things work.”

In this, he brought up the idea of Maxwell’s equations, in which upon googling after school, I immediately had an annoyingly sinking feeling. It was way beyond my depth. Though the conversation seemed fruitless then, I realised in hindsight it had very much contributed to my desire to know and be curious.

In life as well as in our studies, it is very easy to become jaded and so lose this sense of childlike curiosity. We can study things for external motives such as acquiring a good job and getting good grades, wherein so doing we lose what internally drives us. Curiosity.

Peeling back the centuries of traditional pedagogy lies a very simple desire. To know. In my experience of completing an undergraduate degree in university, it was nice to finally not hear the reply that “it’s not in the study design – so it’s not relevant and we won’t be covering it”. Rather, that when upon asking a question we sometimes come across an equivalently unsatisfactory and frustrating reply.

“We simply just don’t know it yet.”

May we strive to stay curious, as it is this very childlike curiosity that brings a love for learning.