Friday,24 November, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1172, (14 - 20 November 2013)
Friday,24 November, 2017
Issue 1172, (14 - 20 November 2013)

Ahram Weekly

Once upon a time: A well-called curiosity

Since the beginnings of human history, men and women have been driven by an apparently insatiable curiosity and the urge to invent and discover.
When Adam was in Paradise, we are told, curiosity so took hold of him that he committed the one transgression that he had been specifically told not to. We don’t know whether taking a bite from the fruit of the forbidden tree was worth the trouble. But we do know that the fruits of curiosity, garnered by Adam’s endless offspring, have transformed our lives and that they continue to do so.
In his book L’Histoire universelle, the French Egyptologist Jean Yoyotte describes life in the prehistoric villages in Egypt, noting the exquisite artistry of Stone Age tools. The workmanship of the weapons, the carvings of the bones, as well as the baskets and fabrics that the ancients used were all fashioned with such tasteful detail that modern artists can only aspire to emulate them.
This attention to detail continued into the Bronze Age, when the ancients experimented with their new material in the same way that modern man experiments with new types of fibre and metal alloys. Pottery, porcelain, and ceramics are all testimonies to the sense of exploration that drove Adam and Eve out of Paradise. Did they really need to eat the fruit of that forbidden tree, or was it their only ticket out of heavenly predictability?
This tantalising question seems to find its answer in the way humanity acts with every passing day. We may not have found peace with each other, or within ourselves for that matter. But we apparently cannot stop finding everything else: new inventions, discoveries of things past, and explorations of the land, oceans, and space.
Everything humans need or imagine seems to impel them toward invention. The ancient Egyptians may not have had the orthopaedic mattresses that exist in the modern market, but they had comfortable beds and pillows, pleasant not only to sleep on but also to look at. Their houses lacked the air-conditioning we now have, but they fashioned with mud and reeds for maximum insulation against the heat of the summer and the cold of the winter.
In his book, Adventures of Ideas, the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead says that humans are forever rebelling against routine and challenging established ideas. It is this rebelliousness, he suggests, the same thing that drove the first human couple out of Paradise according to the creation story, that drives us to make cars and planes and other vehicles that render our lives more mobile, our traffic impossible, and our planet borderline poisonous. We cannot help it. The parallels with our expulsion from Paradise are only too obvious.
In his work on the “New Humanism”, the Belgian scientist George Sarton noted that the passion for knowledge was integral to the human condition. Yet no knowledge is complete, he said, and none is too powerful to be challenged. With every generation that is born, new questions arise and a fresh set of tasks evolve.
What we make, our children will critique, improve, discard, or replace. But the entire human endeavour, this overflow of creativity, is drawn from the same deep well that was born with the birth of humanity: a well-called curiosity.

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