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Why?: What Makes Us Curious

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Astrophysicist and author Mario Livio investigates perhaps the most human of all our characteristics—curiosity—as he explores our innate desire to know why .

Experiments demonstrate that people are more distracted when they overhear a phone conversation—where they can know only one side of the dialogue—than when they overhear two people talking and know both sides. Why does half a conversation make us more curious than a whole conversation?

In the ever-fascinating Why? Mario Livio interviewed scientists in several fields to explore the nature of curiosity. He examined the lives of two of history’s most curious geniuses, Leonardo da Vinci and Richard Feynman. He also talked to people with boundless a superstar rock guitarist who is also an astrophysicist; an astronaut with degrees in computer science, biology, literature, and medicine. What drives these people to be curious about so many subjects?

Curiosity is at the heart of mystery and suspense novels. It is essential to other forms of art, from painting to sculpture to music. It is the principal driver of basic scientific research. Even so, there is still no definitive scientific consensus about why we humans are so curious, or about the mechanisms in our brain that are responsible for curiosity.

Mario Livio—an astrophysicist who has written about mathematics, biology, and now psychology and neuroscience—explores this irresistible subject in a lucid, entertaining way that will captivate anyone who is curious about curiosity.

272 pages, Hardcover

First published July 1, 2017

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Mario Livio

45 books218 followers

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 29 of 101 reviews
Profile Image for Kathleen.
180 reviews27 followers
April 17, 2017
My 3-star rating of this book includes a caveat that if I had a stronger background in science, it could very well be a 4 or 5 star book. Author Mario Luvio is an internationally known astrophysicist, which did not intimidate me but perhaps it should have a little bit. (I blame you, Neil Degrasse Tyson! You and your charming ability to make me feel smart about stuff.)

I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley and the publisher, Simon & Schuster, to read and review honestly. I consider myself a curious person, and I had a particular interest in the chapters on curiosity and neuroscience & psychology. I'm particularly fascinated with people and looked forward to these chapters but found myself on overload when reading them. The experiments he cites are fascinating, but my head began to spin as he cites results from different studies, compared to other studies, compared to different age groups as subjects. Perhaps if I revisit the text later with a clear head and maybe a dry-erase board, it will penetrate a little better. In my reading, I ended up on information overload - a predicament he refers to btw, when speaking of what makes people curious & potential barriers to curiosity. To oversimplify the research He presents, if something is too simple or too complicated, the subject will likely lose interest. Some of the chapters were definitely too technical for me in a way I'm not accustomed to examining evidence. In some chapters I remained curious and sought out end notes to enhance my understanding. In other chapters, I continued reading and accepted the fact that I'm a bit over my head in this subject. Then I put the book down and read a humorous comic/graphic novel to reset my brain for the next few chapters.

I don't want to give the impression that you need to be a scientist to follow this book, because most of it is very accessible and he gives a heads- up to readers when things begin to become necessarily technical. I enjoyed the book and would recommend it. I just happened to feel that I probably didn't make the right decision to satisfy my science requirements at university with classes that were enormous lecture classes graded on a curve taken by a bunch of other liberal arts students unsure if we could pass otherwise. Maybe I should have taken something a little more challenging.
Profile Image for Claudia.
954 reviews535 followers
April 1, 2017
“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existence. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery each day.” Einstein said it* and Mario Livio does a brilliant job here by showing how curiosity shaped who we are today.

This is one of the best scientific books I read so far and my 5th by Mr. Livio. As always, he delivers an astounding great read.

Beginning with Leonardo da Vinci, Richard Feynman, continuing with Freeman Dyson, Story Musgrave and Brian May (for those who do not know, besides being a brilliant musician he is an astrophysicist as well), just to name a few, the author starts his journey by searching for an answer to the question: what makes us curious?

Based on psychologist Daniel Berlyne’s classification of curiosity**, the author made an astounding research (30% of this book represents notes and bibliography) and conducted a series of interviews to find more on the subject. From childhood to adulthood, most of us are curious by nature, but only few people are really driven by it. You’ll be amazed by the lives of these people and their accomplishments. For example, astronaut Story Musgrave has various degrees in mathematics and statistics, analysis and computer programming, chemistry, medicine, physiology, biophysics and literature. Asked why did he choose to study all these fields, he responded that “one thing led to another”.

The author also touches the topic on how curiosity leads to knowledge and knowledge is ‘dangerous’. Starting from the proverb “curiosity killed the cat”, he gives a lot of examples in literature: Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit, Baba Yaga from Slavic folklore which eats nosy children, children stories like Sleeping Beauty and Hansel and Gretel, advancing further in real life with examples on how totalitarian regimes prohibited access to information and even destroyed books and works of art (the Nazi, Talibans, etc).

The book not only abounds in scientific details but has also a lot of humorous facts. Mario Livio writes with lightness, fluent, in a very accessible way. He does an amazing job on popularizing science through his books. Is God a Mathematician? , The Equation That Couldn't Be Solved: How Mathematical Genius Discovered the Language of Symmetry and The Golden Ratio: The Story of Phi, the World's Most Astonishing Number are among my favorites.

He also worked on The Hubble Cantata project, a concert which brings together classic music, virtual reality on the background of Hubble’s images from space. I would love to have the chance of seeing it. Here is a glimpse on it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2PVGb...

That being said, I really do hope I succeeded in raising your curiosity on it ;) Read it, you won’t be disappointed.

>Many thanks to Simon & Schuster for approving my request via NetGalley<

* "Old Man's Advice to Youth: 'Never Lose a Holy Curiosity.'" LIFE Magazine (2 May 1955) p. 64

**“Berlyne located curiosity along two dimensions, making a four-fold classification. While his work, and the field more generally, has moved on, we liked the simplicity of his four-fold model, and it is an open question whether subsequent models were improvements or merely changes.
On one axis lies Epistemic curiosity, which is the desire for information and knowledge, and Perceptual curiosity, which describes one’s attention to novel objects in their immediate environment. The other axis runs from Specific curiosity, which is the desire for a particular piece of knowledge such as the final piece of a puzzle, to Diversive curiosity, which is less directed and would describe seeking stimulation to escape boredom or when ready to grow.”

June 3, 2020
More like 3.5, but leaning on 4.

I think the book, to a point, and from a scientific perspective failed to answer the question it presented in the first place: what makes us curious? However, as the author mentioned, there is limited research available, and therefore I guess there wasn’t much more to present. Furthermore, I feel like, at times, the author jumped from point to point on a number of stories with no apparent overarching theme, but I assume that can still be attributed to the attention span of curious characters!

I did thoroughly enjoy some of the other chapters, including a number of the stories of curious people around the world and especially the chapter exploring the History of Curiosity. I also appreciate the fact that the author ends on a few practical tips on how to plant, nurture, and sustain curiosity.

Overall, I’d say this book is worth checking out for anyone curious about curiosity!
Profile Image for Geoff.
963 reviews92 followers
July 20, 2019
Although this is a fascinating topic, the book felt like a disjointed series of biographies and research results, without a coherent theory. Maybe this is more the fault of the field than the book, but it didn’t make for compelling reading.
Profile Image for Shhhhh Ahhhhh.
777 reviews18 followers
October 23, 2018
Very interesting book on one of the most central facets of human behavior and existence. What makes us curious?

I like this as a primer on the subject, one we're all intimately familiar with on an experiential level, but I felt that, like all primers, it had so much more worthy ground to cover.

Here are my main takeaways. They are few, as most of the book is retreading old ground or discussing what essentially amounts to Maslow-style ethnography of a hand-picked (cherrypicked) group.

Infovores. That was a new one. The idea that one of our fundamental drives as a species is information and that that is one of the things that meaningfully differentiates us from other species. That chimpanzees don't do investigatory work the same way that a child does. That gorillas don't ritually attempt to disassemble, eat or manipulate objects like human children. That everything that children do seems to be geared towards learning.

Difficulty, to a point, increases learning. This was retreading old ground but it's worth discussing. The idea that there's a sweet spot and the sweet spot is where model creation is optimized. That we're not really curious about anything that is too easy or too difficult to grasp, but just right for us to leverage existing information and novel question-asking to come to new conclusions.

Geniuses, at least the ones he selected, show a particular cluster of traits. Varied interests that feed into one another. Appreciation of beauty. Intense, if fleeting, curiosity. Quick learners. More interested in direct exposure than second-hand information. Visual. Often impaired in one or more regular cognitive processes (from reading to math to socializing etc).

Where I think the book had room to grow: Is inquiry the only way to express curiosity? Is asking a question the only way to get an answer? What do we do now that we know this? How do we leverage what you've said to enhance our curiosity and the curiosity of others, especially children transitioning into adulthood? What commentary, if any, do you have on the state of a science and the levels of curiosity it attracts? For example, for a mostly settled hard science, will it attract inherently less people as there's less that's unknown? How does infovore activity map onto group dynamics in terms of the balance of curiosity and fear? That is, so spme members of a gene pool get sacrificed to boost group learning? How can adding information drive change our game theory models? How do we exploit the fear-curiosity balance? How do we leverage existing curiosity to create maximum learning?

This book has rekindled my appreciation for good questions... also my interest in learning banjo.
327 reviews7 followers
April 9, 2017
Note: I received this book as an advanced reading copy from NetGalley.

I really enjoyed the book. The author is great at explaining research without it being too dry, and I love that he is a physicist, which means I can relate to a lot of things he says. Overall, the book was well written and flows nicely. The interviews and character profiles were quite interesting, and made for a nice change of pace since there was a mix of individuals I learned a lot more about curiosity than I had known before. If the question "Why?" is something that interests you, you should read this book.
Profile Image for Fernando del Alamo.
314 reviews19 followers
October 30, 2018
El libro es un intento de explicación de por qué tenemos esa característica que llamamos curiosidad (difícil de definir, por otro lado, pues los cotillas, en el fondo, también tienen curiosidad). Parte de dos personajes conocidos, que son Leonardo da Vinci y Richard Feynman, explicando los parecidos y las diferencias entre ellos e intentando extraer qué es lo que les hacía ser curiosos.

Tiene una parte central que es un tanto técnica pero, aunque estas partes acostumbran a ser de mi agrado, no me ha satisfecho, no sé si por la forma o el contenido. Creo que las partes técnicas deben ser explicadas de otra forma, pero es un punto de vista personal. Me ha aburrido esa parte un poco, de ahí que le dé 3 estrellas.

Si no fuera por esa parte, el resto me ha gustado mucho, por los ejemplos que da y las cosas que explica. Si fuera sin esos capítulos y hubiera sido del estilo del resto, le hubiera puesto entre 4 y 5 estrellas de puntuación.

Recomendado para gente que guste de la psicología, incluso con buenos conocimientos en la materia, pero no a personas que busquen un libro de divulgación habitual.
Profile Image for Melody.
1,169 reviews4 followers
September 26, 2017
An interesting book on the why, how's and who's of curiosity. Details many famous scientists, and asks them why they wanted to learn what they learned, what drove them. Also explores the psychology and neuroscience of curiosity. To me this was the most interesting parts and something I was curious about. I recommend this book for curious people.
Profile Image for Avinash Pandey.
172 reviews9 followers
December 15, 2018
# Desire and hunger to plug the voids in accumulated islands of knowledge to levitate to higher wisdom and to stroll ahead than what is known to explore yet unknown.#

# Why?: What makes us curious.#
Profile Image for Maria Beltrami.
Author 14 books55 followers
September 13, 2020
There is a period in childhood called "the age of why?". There are those who come out of it, their curiosity often dulled by social pressures, and those who never come out of it. But what is curiosity? What does it mean to be curious? Is it true that curiosity diminishes with age and the accumulation of information, or is it true that the more information you accumulate, the more the questions and the desire to know?
Far from answering these questions, in his amusing exploration of curiosity and the psychological and biological reasons that support it, Mario Livio does nothing but stimulate new ones in the reader, putting even the laziest reader back on the trail of a healthy desire to know.
Profile Image for Nathan Albright.
4,422 reviews101 followers
May 28, 2019
This is a book that could have been better than it was.  When it comes to books on creativity, sooner or later most authors make some sort of wild evolutionary speculations.  And while it takes a while for that to happen in this particular book, once it does it becomes obvious that the author is not so much interested in curiosity from the point of view of how its history actually is but rather on how it is imagined to be given the fact that we are creative extrapolated from an imagined evolutionary past.  What we write depends to a great extent on what belief systems that we bring to the subjects we write about, and if this book is certainly not the worst example of it, it is a clear enough example of it that we ought to at least recognize what will make it good or bad in the eyes of its readers depending on the worldviews that they will bring to this book and others like it.  That is not to say that this book is entirely worthless, because it does at least have something worthwhile to say about curiosity and how it improves our lives, but this book could have been so much better.

This particular book is about 200 pages long and begins with a look at a curios story by slightly overrated American author Kate Chopin (1), after which it contains chapters that focus on the creativity of Leonardo Da Vinci (2) and Richard Feynman (3), both scientists noted for their intense creativity.  After that, the next three chapters spend a great deal of time focusing on curiosity about curiosity, discussing the question of information gaps and how it is that people resolve them (4), the way that some people have an intrinsic love of knowledge that drives them to read and understand more than others around them do (5), and the neuroscience, such as we understand it, behind curiosity (6).  The author gives a brief account of the rise of human curiosity in the aforementioned evolutionary speculations, seeking to ground his ideas about curiosity in what is thought of as scientific by our contemporary generation (7), and also talks about the question of curious minds (8) and why it is that we have curiosity (9).  Admittedly, the author seems not to understand the high amount of dogmatic pretensions to knowledge that our society and our age currently has, and overstates the amount of curiosity and open inquiry that exists among his like-minded cohorts.  After this there is an epilogue, notes, bibliography, credits, and an index.

If the author understands that we lack a great deal of insight and understanding about the origins and nature of curiosity, he does at least make sure in this book to provide some examples of how it shows itself in creative as well as scientific pursuits.  This is a book that is not as offensive as others of its kind, even if it represents somewhat of a missed opportunity for an author to show some humility and avoid the sort of hypocrisy by which people presume knowledge on something they are ignorant about and then manage to pat themselves on the back for being so open-minded and so unlike the pretentious people of previous generations who pretended they understood the cosmos when all they had was received ignorance from the past.  Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.  The author would have done better to have shown his curiosity about curiosity in such a way that did not involve making obviously false claims directly contradicted by his own behavior.  Nevertheless, it is perhaps too much to expect humility from those who think they know it all already.
621 reviews7 followers
September 1, 2017

“Why? What makes us curious,” by Mario Livio (Simon and Schuster, 2017). A fascinating, informative, and except for a couple of chapters that are a bit technical (which Livio warns the reader about), very clearly written discussion of curiosity. What is it? Where did it come from? What effect does it have on humanity, on evolution? He describes four different kinds, charted by the Canadian psychiatrist Daniel Berlyne, along two axes: between Perceptual and epistemic, and Specific and diversive curiosity. Perceptual curiosity is about novelty, ambiguity, puzzling stimuli; it generally diminishes with continued exposure. Epistemic is the general desire for knowledge, curiosity about everything and anything. Specific curiosity is the desire for a particular piece of information, to solve a problem. Diversive curiosity is the restless desire to explore and to see novel stimulation to avoid boredom. With variations and deeper investigation, these seem to cover the territory. He looks at Leonardo da Vinci and Richard Feynman, two indisputable geniuses. Their hallmark was a constant curiosity about everything around them. Leonardo explored any natural phenomenon that struck his fancy. Feynman was the same way. Also, Leonardo would go on for a while until either he found a solution or decided the problem was too frustrating or impossible to resolve. Livio delves into the chemical, DNA and biological elements that seem to create curiosity in people (this is the part that slowed me down). Basically, he says, it may be that curiosity is the thing that made us finally human (he looks at how the brain evolved, growing in size). One thing I missed is that he did not deal with curiosity among animals: predators tend to be more curious than herbivores: anything could be a source of food. Ultimately he makes a plea for continued curiosity in our culture: support of science and openness. He talks about how only open societies enable continued curiosity. Systems where the authorities think they have the answers do not want questions; they don’t want discoveries that might upset their system. Think of Galileo and the Church (or any of those early astronomers): if the earth was not the center of the universe; if it was not unique; then the entire cosmology and belief structure was threatened with collapse. Also consider Darwin and faith. Good book. Fun, too.

Profile Image for Meghan.
Author 1 book9 followers
July 11, 2017
So I found this book about curiosity to be dull, which seems to me antithetical to a book on curiosity (also, I keep typing curiousity because the English language and I are having issues today). Even as the book traveled between psychology, neuroscience, and history, all subjects I have levels of curiosity about, I just did not care. Maybe it was the writing style, which is neither dry and scientific nor really pop-science chummy, but somewhere in between (I really didn't need to know, for instance, that the author skyped with certain interviewees in the book)? Maybe it was the lack of narrative, since I'm a sucker for narrative and reading non-fiction books that don't have a story-line is often difficult for me? Maybe there was too much talking about Feynman in the book, who while brilliant, always makes me feel very uncomfortable. Maybe I'm just plain incurious about curiosity? I can't say. But the book left me not wanting more, so I can't say that, in the realms of curiosity, it was a success.

Also, if anyone can explain to me why we don't spell it curiousity, it would be greatly appreciated.

Addendum: Levi is a physicist. Every other book I've reviewed by a physicist, said physicist has contacted me to point out flaws and/or disagree with my review. So I have that to look forward to, I suppose :p

Why? by Mario Levi went on sale July 11, 2017.

I received a copy free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Melissa.
54 reviews33 followers
May 25, 2017
This book was a page-turner! The author included quality research along with fascinating information about what we 'think' we understand about curiosity and, more importantly, the big questions that remain unanswered in this topic. He retained an unbiased perspective as he delivered the expansive and interesting theories about what curiosity is and why we have it.

The author succeeded at delivering complex information with clarity by 1. avoiding jargon and 2. retaining an unassuming position in what his readers may or may not already know about the topic. Potential weaknesses of the various experiments and research he cites were clearly pointed out by him as well, which is essential when it comes to multi-faceted subjects like this.

Comprehensive with his research, he included an array of past experiments/studies that exhibited pivotal steps toward our attempts at understanding curiosity along with the most up-to-date findings that are currently being discovered and worked on as our understanding of curiosity develops.

Perhaps this was simply my personal experience and not intended by the author, but as he wrote about curiosity and our minds, I found myself so enthralled in the subject that by the time I was around half way through the book, I suddenly realized he was not just relaying the information to me via his writing and my reading, but by actually allowing me to experience the array of curious sensations and processes he was discussing. Well played.

>Many thanks to Simon & Schuster for approving my request via NetGalley<
715 reviews
July 21, 2018
It is ironic that a book about being curious was so dreadfully boring. This had the feel of a decently interesting article that the author fluffed out to make the length of a book. The style was not engaging to me at all- I especially disliked where the author inserted himself into the interviews with the "curious" people, and told us what he thought after many statements made during the interviews. Some of the things he presents as evidence are not generally accepted theories in anthropology/evolutionary biology; he admits this in some places, but not all. It did pick up for a bit in the middle, but then started sliding downward again for me. If this had not been for a book club, I would have quit very early on. I am very glad that I managed to snag it from the library and did not wind up paying $12 for the Kindle version.
Profile Image for Pete Wung.
143 reviews8 followers
December 23, 2017
Mario Livio is a very well-known polymath, an astrophysicist as well as an author known for writing books on different math and physics related topics. I had read about this particular book on the New York Times, the idea of exploring curiosity excited me immensely. A systematic look at why we are curious and what the sciences tell us about our curiosity was a very seductive topic indeed.
In the end, the final couple of chapters really redeemed the book, as for the rest of the book, I cannot really put a finger on why the material failed to engage my….curiosity, but it did not.
This is a thin book, not really an academic tome on the science and history of curiosity, yet it retains that flavor throughout. Dr. Livio is a good writer, and undertook a very logical and systematic approach to telling the story, I expected no less from and eminent astrophysicist.
The first chapter examines the very human trait of being curious. He very nicely and in the fine story telling fashion of these kind of books to lay out the ground work for examining what curiosity is and what curiosity means to him personally, as he is the primary investigator of this book.
Three chapters are about people, people who has exhibited the kind of intense curiosity that enticed Dr. Livio to examine the topic. Two chapters tells the story of two legendary polymaths from the past: Leonardo da Vinci and Richard Feynman. These were entertaining and knowledgeable chapters telling the stories of the intellectual prowess of two remarkable men. He makes the case that curiosity is what drove these men to the achievements that they have accomplished. While they are not complete biographies of these two giants of science and curiosity seekers, the two chapters fully drew my attention into the story. Much later, Dr. Livio interviewed living polymaths, people who exhibit the same kind of intense curiosity as Leonardo and Feynman. They are living in the modern world, and their stories are similarly engaging, although they are just a little less fascinating since they have yet to come to a complete picture of the result of their curiosity since their productive life is far from over.
A very scientifically satisfying and thorough examination of curiosity was undertaken through the usual process of reviewing and encapsulating the most recent research being done in the sciences. A substantial chapter was devoted to the anthropology of curiosity, two chapters were devoted to a competent review of what we know about curiosity from the psychological and neuroscience aspects of the topic. A chapter was devoted to the human love of curiosity, a historical look at our civilization and how curiosity drives us into achieving what we have achieved as a civilization. In the end two chapters were devoted to asking the question Why Curiosity and an epilogue which nicely summarizes the book.
I liked the organization, I liked the approach, and it should have been quite an easy sell to me, but it was challenging for me to completely engage in the stories and studies. I would postulate that Dr. Livio made his case in a pretty clinical way. The psychological studies, as well as the neuroscience chapters were kind of a slog because I was not familiar with those areas and I was struggling with some of the conclusions and arguments. I am not sure if doing more with what he had or whether doing less with what he had would have helped. I think I still would have had a challenging time. Perhaps in skimming over the book after some time had passed would do the trick.
Indeed, I am very glad that this book was written and at least this was placed in the popular literature for the sake of posterity. I believe that it is a capable and informative book on the subject of curiosity, which made me curious and being curious, which after all is what the purpose of the book is supposed to be.
Profile Image for Behrooz Parhami.
Author 9 books10 followers
December 30, 2022
I listened to the unabridged 7-hour audio version of this title (read by Arthur Morey, Simon & Schuster Audio, 2017).

In this wonderful book, astrophysicist Mario Livio, a best-selling author of science texts, probes the question of human curiosity, our "engine of discovery," via the stories of two icons of curiosity and innovation: artist/technologist Leonardo da Vinci [1452-1519] and physicist Richard Feynman [1918-1988]. What made these two icons, separated in time by nearly five centuries, curious? It is only natural to be curious about the nature of curiosity!

I had previously read multiple books about both da Vinci and Feynman, but seeing the two geniuses discussed and compared side-by-side adds some important elements to their stories and to our understanding of what they accomplished. Beginning as an artist, da Vinci, who was rather weak in math, ended up making significant contributions to science and technology. Feynman proceeded the opposite way: He was trained as a physicist but developed a keen interest in art and made significant headway in drawing and painting. So, an important aspect of both geniuses was a synergy between art and science.

The notebooks left behind by da Vinci, 15,000 pages in all, tell us almost all we need to know about him. He began writing in them in his late 30s, so it is estimated that he wrote an average of 1.5 pages per day, non-stop, for nearly 30 years. He was extremely focused when something caught his fancy, but also could get easily distracted, abandoning certain topics and leaving many projects unfinished.

Feynman, too, tackled many problems. He is, of course, famous for being one of three awardees of the 1965 Nobel Prize in Physics, for fundamental work in quantum electrodynamics. But he also made many other contributions to physics and to popularizing science through his writings. His participation in the development of the atomic bomb and service on the panel that investigated the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster are among his other claims to fame.

One commonality between da Vinci and Feynman is that they liked to tackle problems beginning with first principles, instead of relying on earlier work reported in books and other publications. Feynman, though, was by no means a loner. He talked to many ultra-curious people, such as an astrophysicist who was also a superstar rock-guitarist and an astronaut with degrees in computer science, biology, literature, and medicine.

There is no doubt that some degree of curiosity provides an evolutionary advantage, so curiosity must be an innate feature of us humans. But, if we believe the oft-given advice, "curiosity killed the cat," too much of it may be detrimental to our well-being. Livio does not provide adequate answers to why we humans are so curious and which brain mechanisms are responsible for curiosity, but he leaves us much better-informed about the nature of curiosity and how to nurture it in ourselves and others.
90 reviews
September 15, 2021
I'll admit: I was looking for something specific from this book, and for a while, I thought Livio was going to go in a completely different direction, so I was about to give this book three stars. But by the end, I had learned to appreciate it for what it was.

A specific question I have long asked is, "how do we cultivate curiosity in kids, to be interested in how the world works, and in how they can make it a better place?"

I felt Livio wasn't taking us anywhere near that question when he got bogged down in the details of how the brain works and which parts of it are active during different types of mental activities, and I feared that his descriptions would be just as useful in describing "curiosity" about what's going to happen in the latest season of reality TV shows as they would be in the kind of curiosity about which I am curious. But Livio had started out strong, with his examinations of Leonardo Da Vinci and Richard Feynman (a personal hero of mine), so I stuck with it and was rewarded. By the time he gets around to interviews with famous autodidacts, I think his interviewees interpreted "curiosity" the same way I do, so suddenly we had come back around to the subject I was interested in.

And frankly, Livio was very effective at giving me reasons to care about the functioning of the brain. His comparisons of humans to chimpanzees and bonobos, his telling the story of neuron counts and their effect on our cognitive functions, and his descriptions of evolutionary processes that enabled human brains to become so much more functional than our primate cousins' brains, became subjects of my curiosity due to his addressing those topics. And, in so doing, he cemented some of his earlier points about the nature of curiosity.

I am personally a huge fan of Queen guitarist and astrophysicist Brian May, so by interviewing him and others like him for this book, Livio ended on a real high note for me. Though there were parts of the book in which my eyes had glazed over, and he didn't quite answer the question I was hoping to have answered, he came very close and finally earned my approval for the case he did ultimately make.

Livio has written on several subjects that are of interest to me, and after reading this one, I'm very much looking forward to reading many others by him in the future.
Profile Image for Tõnu Vahtra.
539 reviews77 followers
October 1, 2017
The road to the unknown unknowns is paved with curiosity which is the lighting force for creativity. Not as so easy reading as other deep scientific people for regular people, but did provide slightly different perspective to human evolution (e.g. what was the role of curiosity in the development of the size of brain for today's humans which also required the invention and widespread use of cooking food. This in turn enabled to get the necessary calories with smaller effort VS bigger primates who need to spend most of their awake time on feeding and would not be able to feed a bigger brain while maintaining the other bodily proportions).

“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existence. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery each day.” Einstein

The key subject under investigation throughout the book is Leonardo da Vinci, how his unspoiled mind and limited options together with unlimited curiosity lead many discoveries that were far ahead of their time. Curiosity activates both pleasure and danger zones of the body and for getting results it is imperative to keep optimal balance between the two. The most creative people could be seen as suffering under ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) to bystanders since they are constantly jumping between different topics, unable to focus on a single topic or domain for significant amount of time. Majority of today's scientists limit their curiosity because grants are designed to encourage just small evolutionary developments in known theories.

From childhood to adulthood, most of us are curious by nature, but only few people are really driven by it. For example, astronaut Story Musgrave has various degrees in mathematics and statistics, analysis and computer programming, chemistry, medicine, physiology, biophysics and literature. Asked why did he choose to study all these fields, he responded that “one thing led to another”.

Profile Image for Whiskey Tango.
1,099 reviews4 followers
July 9, 2019
Curiosity inspires the most exciting things in our lives, from conversation to reading books to seeing films. It drives all scientific research and education. Other species are curious, but they don’t have the ability to ask why. This is uniquely human. Everybody should be curious about curiosity.

The physicist Richard Feynman once wrote of the universe’s vastness: “It does not do harm to the mystery to know a little about it. For far more marvelous is the truth than any artists of the past imagined!” In his new book, “Why? What Makes Us Curious,” the astrophysicist and best-selling author Mario Livio writes about Feynman and other historical figures who have exhibited great and varied interest in the world around them. He also investigates the different shapes curiosity can take, how it expresses itself and the regions of the brain in which it appears to reside. Below, Livio talks about the latest research about the subject, how the book changed as he wrote it, Albert Einstein and Leonardo da Vinci, and more.

I was always a very curious person, and I wondered about the mechanisms of curiosity for a long time. I was surprised to discover that somehow, in spite of the fact that curiosity is driving almost everything we do, the number of researchers that focus exclusively on the study of it is relatively small.

I realized that curiosity really represents a whole family of both states and mechanisms. For example, the curiosity we feel when we see something that is surprising or puzzling or ambiguous, that doesn’t agree exactly with our previous knowledge or presumed knowledge, is not the same as the curiosity we feel as the love of knowledge — what drives research in science, for example. The first one is associated with a state of mind that is aversive. It’s an unpleasant feeling, which we try to get rid of. It even activates regions of the brain that are associated with conflict, or hunger and thirst.
223 reviews5 followers
March 25, 2018
This was an assigned reading for work, so my interest in it was not very high. I did find a few "nuggets of wisdom" that made the book worthwhile. So, based on where I highlighted parts of the text, here is a summary by chapter of where I found interesting information. The book picked up for me around chapter 5. I found the first four chapters more of a challenge to read. Chapters 5 and 6 had some interesting information. I did not find chapter 7 to be interesting. By far, Chapter 8 is the best chapter, and if I only had time to read one chapter, I would select it. This chapter focuses on several people who have demonstrated great talent in multiple areas. In my humble opinion, Chapter 8 redeemed the entire book for me. And, Chapter 9, was worthwhile as well.

So, what makes up curious? Well, everyone is born with a certain amount of curiosity, and it can diminish as we get older. For some people the curiosity remains a part of them, and for some they pursue their curiosity to various levels, which can lead do significant and notable achievements. The brain is a significant factor in curiosity and now that science has progressed enough to study the effects and behaviors of brain activity when curiosity is stimulated the link is clearly established.

This book read like a graduate-level thesis while it appears to be marketed to laity. If it was trying to be some form of edutainment, it could have been condensed to article-length and achieved similar results for me.
Profile Image for uosɯɐS .
299 reviews
February 14, 2019
Audiobook, and the narration was fairly mediocre. So, my mind wandered...

I have always considered my own curiosity to be somewhat above average, and I generally consider high curiosity to be an admirable trait. Some quotes I already liked, prior to this book:

"Curiouser, and curiosuer!" - Alice in Wonderland

"I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious." - Einstein

So... a book on curiousity seemd right up my alley :-) Overall, I did like the book. However, I didn't feel that I really learned much from it. The author is not a psychologist or a neuroscientist, but an astrophysicist. A curious personality, surely, but not a scientific expert on curiousity. He was aware of this, and gathered info from appropriate experts, but any journalist could have done as much.

The way the book started off it seemed like it would be a hero-worship of Leonardo da Vinci. Well, eventually Livio moved on to praising other white, male, physicists, such as Richard Feynman (I approve!), Freeman Dyson, and even a woman: Marilyn Vos Savant.

I was glad to see that the author acknowledged that, unfortunately, curiosity is usually a luxury of the privileged. It is the expression of intellectual freedom. Many humans never get to have such freedom. Reminds me of another quote:

“I am, somehow, less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein’s brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops.”― Stephen Jay Gould
Profile Image for Otekinin Hikayesi.
50 reviews3 followers
June 7, 2020
Her şey merakla başlar. Çocukların öğrendiği ilk kelimeler arasındadır soru kelimeleri. Bu ne? Bu kim? Neden? Saatlerimizi geçirdiğimiz sosyal medya hesapları, ötekinin hikâyesine duyulan merak yüzünden kurulmadı mı zaten?
Bazen de her şey merakla biter. Merakın kediyi öldürdüğü, fazla merakın başa bela olduğu, kısacası pek de iyi bir şey olmadığı söylenir. 🤷🏻
İşte bu kitap da merak duygusunu masaya yatırıyor. İnsan doğasında merakın nasıl bir yeri olduğundan ve merak üzerine yapılmış ilginç deneylerden bahsediyor. En dikkat çekici araştırma sonuçlarından biri, insanların yaşı ilerledikçe merak duygusunda bir azalma olmadığı halde merakı gidermek konusunda girişimde bulunmaktan daha çok kaçınması. Kitabın, astrofizikçi yazarı, Mario Livio meraklı ve -belki de merakı sayesinde- başarılı bilim insanlarına hangi konularda ve neden meraklı olduklarına dair sorular yöneltiyor.
📕 Bilimsel içeriğe sahip anlatılardan, insan doğasına dair bilgi edinmekten hoşlanan, “merak” konusunu merak edenlerin ilgisini çekecek bir kitap.
📌𝑫𝒂𝒓𝒘𝒊𝒏 𝟏𝟖𝟐𝟖'𝒅𝒆 𝑪𝒂𝒎𝒃𝒓𝒊𝒈𝒈𝒆'𝒆 𝒈𝒆𝒍𝒅𝒊𝒈𝒊𝒏𝒅𝒆 𝒕𝒖𝒕𝒌𝒖𝒍𝒖 𝒃𝒊𝒓 𝒃𝒐𝒄𝒆𝒌 𝒌𝒐𝒍𝒆𝒌𝒔𝒊𝒚𝒐𝒏𝒆𝒓𝒊 𝒐𝒍𝒖𝒑 𝒄𝒊𝒌𝒎𝒊𝒔𝒕𝒊. 𝑩𝒊𝒓 𝒌𝒆𝒓𝒆𝒔𝒊𝒏𝒅𝒆 𝒌𝒖𝒓𝒖 𝒃𝒊𝒓 𝒂𝒈𝒂𝒄𝒊𝒏 𝒌𝒂𝒃𝒖𝒈𝒖𝒏𝒖 𝒌𝒂𝒍𝒅𝒊𝒓𝒊𝒏𝒄𝒂, 𝒊𝒌𝒊 𝒕𝒂𝒏𝒆 𝒌𝒂𝒓𝒂𝒇𝒂𝒕𝒎𝒂 𝒃𝒖𝒍𝒎𝒖𝒔 𝒗𝒆 𝒉𝒆𝒓 𝒃𝒊𝒓𝒊𝒏𝒊 𝒃𝒊𝒓 𝒆𝒍𝒊𝒏𝒆 𝒂𝒍𝒎𝒊𝒔𝒕𝒊. 𝑭𝒂𝒌𝒂𝒕 𝒕𝒂𝒎 𝒐 𝒔𝒊𝒓𝒂𝒅𝒂, 𝒈𝒐𝒛𝒖𝒏𝒆 𝒄𝒐𝒌 𝒆𝒏𝒅𝒆𝒓 𝒓𝒂𝒔𝒕𝒍𝒂𝒏𝒂𝒏 𝒃𝒊𝒓 𝒃𝒂𝒔𝒌𝒂 𝒃𝒐𝒄𝒆𝒌 𝒕𝒂𝒌𝒊𝒍𝒎𝒊𝒔𝒕𝒊. 𝑩𝒐𝒄𝒆𝒌𝒍𝒆𝒓𝒊𝒏 𝒉𝒊𝒄𝒃𝒊𝒓𝒊𝒏𝒊 𝒌𝒂𝒄𝒊𝒓𝒎𝒂𝒌 𝒊𝒔𝒕𝒆𝒎𝒆𝒚𝒆𝒏 𝑫𝒂𝒓𝒘𝒊𝒏 𝒃𝒊𝒓 𝒆𝒍𝒊𝒏𝒅𝒆𝒌𝒊 𝒌𝒂𝒓𝒂𝒇𝒂𝒕𝒎𝒂𝒚𝒊 𝒂𝒈𝒛𝒊𝒏𝒂 𝒂𝒕𝒕𝒊. 𝑫𝒂𝒓𝒘𝒊𝒏'𝒊𝒏 𝒂𝒈𝒛𝒊𝒏𝒅𝒂𝒌𝒊 𝒃𝒐𝒄𝒆𝒌 𝒓𝒂𝒉𝒂𝒕𝒔𝒊𝒛 𝒆𝒅𝒊𝒄𝒊 𝒌𝒊𝒎𝒚𝒂𝒔𝒂𝒍 𝒔𝒂𝒍𝒈𝒊𝒍𝒂𝒚𝒊𝒏𝒄𝒂 𝒃𝒐𝒄𝒆𝒈𝒊 𝒅𝒊𝒔𝒂𝒓𝒊 𝒕𝒖𝒌𝒖𝒓𝒅𝒖 𝒗𝒆 𝒅𝒊𝒈𝒆𝒓 𝒃𝒐𝒄𝒆𝒌𝒍𝒆𝒓𝒊 𝒅𝒆 𝒌𝒂𝒚𝒃𝒆𝒕𝒕𝒊. 𝑺𝒐𝒏𝒖 ��𝒆𝒌 𝒉𝒐𝒔 𝒐𝒍𝒎𝒂𝒔𝒂 𝒅𝒂 𝒃𝒖 𝒉𝒊𝒌𝒂𝒚𝒆 𝒎𝒆𝒓𝒂𝒌𝒊𝒏 𝒄𝒂𝒛𝒊𝒃𝒆𝒔𝒊𝒏𝒆 𝒈𝒖𝒛𝒆𝒍 𝒃𝒊𝒓 𝒐𝒓𝒏𝒆𝒌𝒕𝒊𝒓."
Profile Image for Kati.
399 reviews8 followers
August 31, 2017
I won this book via the Goodreads giveaways.

The synopsis on this book was so fascinating and I was very excited to win this copy. Then, unfortunately, the author proceeded to prove a point he'd been making IN the book about how curiosity doesn't exist (or, dies) where the would-be-curious-person feels out of their depth with the topic. So, a person with little to no knowledge of physics isn't likely to be terribly curious about physics till they've gained a more basic foundation upon which to build. The author's use of scientific terminology throughout the book left me feeling very out of MY depth, and it was a struggle to get through most of the book. I DID finally finish, and over-all I've got to give this book 3 stars because it does propose some intriguing ideas regarding curiosity and the means by which the human brain works.

I wish that the author had used more common terminology, made this easier for the lay-person to read. If you've got a solid science base in your background, you'll probably appreciate this more than I did, but for those of us who struggle with scientific terminology, this was borderline unintelligible.
Profile Image for Ron.
3,494 reviews9 followers
October 4, 2017
Could curiosity kill a cat? Or a human? Why are we curious? When did humans become curious? And why do we ask so many questions? These are only some of the topics that Mario Livio pursues in Why?: What Makes Us Curious.

Mario Livio opens the book with a chapter on what is curiosity. He then turns to an examination of two men (Leonardo da Vinci and Richard Feynman) who exemplify curiosity. He then delves into various theories about what causes curiosity to arise in a person, the physical aspects of curiosity as revealed by neuroscience, followed by a very brief account on the rise of curiosity in humans. Next he interviews a number of scientists such as Feeman Dyson and Brian May who are known for their curiosity on why they are curious. And he ends the book with a chapter on why and how curiosity exists.

In this short, readable book, Mario Livio makes a decent case for curiosity being one of the defining characteristics of being human. He also whets the reader's appetite for knowing more in regard to the exploration of the human mind and physiology.
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