Curiosity and the Theory of Cognition
Curiosity spins the wheel of discovery—and we are responsible for cultivating it.
There are no limits to human curiosity. It is this impatience with incompleteness, with what is only half true, with answers that are unsatisfactory, that drives us on, to ask more questions, to find better, more satisfactory answers. — Lonergan
While reading the Structure of Cognition by Lonergan, this particular passage personally struck a chord. Curiosity is a driver. It enables us to solve problems and draw insight from intentional truth-seeking. Curiosity is choosing to look deeper into everyday things and seeing their true significance. Maintaining this sense of wonder is crucial to creativity and inspiration. This resounding take on the significance of human curiosity should be our go-to mindset in our daily lives.
But how do we go about utilizing our human curiosity? Lonergan discusses the trifold Theory of Cognition: experience, understanding, and judgement. He shares that we first experience what is given. We then draw meaning through the questions that arise, which lead to understanding. Lastly, judgement is when we affirm whether our understanding fits what was given. All three can be attributed to our natural human desire to know. This is where curiosity comes to play. Curiosity spins the whole wheel.
As I read Lonergan’s work, I can’t help but recall an experience during my first year as the VP for Education in a new Toastmasters Club. Every year, a club gets evaluated based on how well it did to foster communication and leadership, its two main values, based on quantifiable measures e.g. number of members that delivered a speech, finished an educational path, attended leadership training. My job as the VPE was to make sure we hit these goals. The problem is, it’s been more than a decade since the club qualified. So I just went with the flow, with how everybody does things.
My mindset changed soon enough. After a few months, the Area Director, tasked to oversee the clubs, finally offered to visit our meetings and evaluate our proceedings. She quipped that we can still achieve the highest club award if we just put our minds to it. And I thought, “If we could, why didn’t we in the past decade?”. As skeptical as I was, it made me curious. Why didn’t we? Have I dug deeper into what can still be done? Do I have what it takes to rally the members towards a consolidated agenda?
One question led to another and I soon led a passionate team with a strategy to attain the highest club award (President’s Distinguished Club Award). We listed down the minimum requirements to accomplish the points system. We pinned down who should be responsible for what. We made sure we had timelines, targets, and rewards. I essentially went from experiencing what was happening to understanding what can still happen to judging whether it can happen. Halfway through the season, we clinched the award and ended the 12-year drought (Hooray!). It wasn’t an easy journey, but curiosity and the passion that came with it fueled our desire to elevate our situation.
The process of critical thinking and decision-making is similar to Lonergan’s trifold philosophy. We have to choose to look deeper and see the true significance of the events that unfold. Only then are we able to be in a position to change our mindset, to elevate our situation. As the saying goes, “knowing the problem, is half the solution.” But to truly know is to look deeper. This brings me to my second favorite passage, the lines that precede the one above:
Questions are simply the unfolding, the manifestation of this natural human desire [to know]. And what I want to know is everything about everything.
When we are passionate about learning something, it is not farfetched to say that we want to know everything about everything. When I first tried my favorite sport (table tennis), I researched about everything I could. When I tried to get to know my crush, I kept asking myself questions about stuff I should know. When I finally wanted to improve my financial standing, I read about personal finance and investing for days on end. I was curious. I was driven. I was learning. And you should too.
We have to choose to look deeper and see the true significance of the events that unfold. Only then are we able to be in a position to change our mindset, to elevate our situation.
- Fitzpatrick, J. (1996). The Structure of Cognition.
Leo is an electrical engineer, MBA Candidate, and public speaker. He writes as a hobby. Follow his page on productivity and personal finance on Facebook here.