Inside the chemical world of curiosity
“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing”, Dr. Albert Einstein said once to the Life magazine’s editor William Miller. And he was right. Curiosity do have vital reasons to exist and they’re closely related to the adaptive mechanisms of evolution.
From a cognitive perspective, curiosity is a complex process. In order to understand how it works, we must resort to the brain structure itself. There are certain sections of the brain involved directly on this process and a number of chemicals as well. For example, it has been shown that curiosity can help us to learn more quickly due to the connection between the hippocampus, which is essential to memory and spatial navigation, and the dopamine release caused by the pleasure of learning something especially motivating.
Opioid system & the dopamine loop
It should be noted that when it comes to pleasure, we often tend to think about dopamine, but it is not completely right. Recent researches has shown that opioids are the responsible ones for the pleasure associated to satisfaction of physical needs, such as hunger or sex, while dopamine is more related to the anticipation of this pleasure. Anyway, it seems to be a connection between the reward system and memory and this correlation is the cause of more vivid memories and the consequent learning improvement. So dopamine is certainly related to curiosity, but rather by functioning as a pulse to learning, which is something vital evolutionarily speaking.
As it’s been said by behavioral scientist Susan Weinschenk, this is a confrontation between “wanting” and “liking” that leads us to a risk. While the pleasure expires with satisfaction of desire, emotional state caused by dopamine never ends and we could find ourselves caught in a loop induced by dopamine. In relation to the current context of digital revolution, this means that new calls like Internet, social networks and modern mobile telephony, which keeps us constantly connected, are persistently exciting our curiosity, causing us to easily become trapped in the already mentioned dopamine loop. It’s essential to know when and how to stop.
The difficult challenge of picking the right apple
Infoxication or information overload is a perfectly accurate concept to describe the current situation of digital communications, but it has been pointed out many years ago. It refers to a decrease in the ability to make decisions when a person is exposed to an excessive amount of information. The concept was first popularized by Alvin Toffler in a 1970 book called Future Shock, but it’s right at these times when it has reached full sense. Metaphorically speaking, it could be like being in a huge supermarket trying to buy apples. In that supermarket, on an enormous shelf, there are at least a hundred of different varieties, but we only want to buy three of them. Which ones should we pick up?
This information overload is caused by many factors which are closely related with modern world and the Internet, such as the ease of creation, duplication and transmission of data, the constant increase in communication channels and an uncontrolled generation of not verified information by non-specialist. In other words, while information keeps incessantly and messily growing thanks to technological innovation, the number of people keeps as a fairly constant amount. There’s too much information for each individual and too many channels of incoming information. By far, all this together is beyond what a person is able to handle.
How we deal the matter
On Commons we are well aware of the problem that represents this excess of information, but we also appreciate the pleasure that the discovery of new motivating things provides us. When we sat down to create the app, we took into account the daily struggles of ordinary people. In an over-informed world, how to distinguish good contents out from the trash?
We found many solutions. First of all, the basics. On Commons you receive recommendations directly from people who are like you. No one understands what you like as much as the ones who share your interests. Returning to the apples metaphor, it is like someone who knows your concerns will help you to pick the right apples. But we wanted to include another premise. In Commons content can only be shared every three days. So users can be sure they will find only the best. In other words, we aim to offer less, but better.
We’re convinced that people should never stop being curious and of course we agree with Einstein, who was certainly a wise man. Curiosity is one of the driven forces of our progress as human beings and it doesn’t have to kill any cat (unless you are sort of a cat enemy). This urgent need to learn new things and our ability to embrace the novelty have both allowed us to conquer the world, communicate better and create the technology that has led us into space.