What does curiosity mean to you?
Being interested in something you don’t know or don’t understand.
There is a naivety in being curious. I don’t think you can turn curiosity on or decide to be curious. Thinking about the state of the world, perhaps the problem is that we don’t live in a society which promotes the importance of curiosity.
Would you describe yourself as curious?
Yes. The desire to understand something that I am interested in drives my curiosity, but I don’t think I actively just sit and ‘be curious.’ To be honest I don’t think I have been consciously thinking very curiously until now. Maybe I need to be more curious as to why I’m not curious. I get a feeling that I might need to turn my curiosity dial up a notch (she laughs).
What drives your curiosity?
I am curious to know what goes through people’s minds, what makes them who they are. I’m particularly fascinated by people who have different opinions to me. I went to a play at the theatre a few weeks back, which I thought was incredible, I was so moved at the end. But many people were not, and the reviews were incredibly polarised. I am fascinated to know why some people didn’t like it but others like me were profoundly moved by it.
When you were younger what were the things you were most curious about? Do you think you have the answers to those questions now?
I was curious about what it was like to be older. I always thought being older would be magical. When I was 9 or 10, I had the belief that people who were older had more freedom. I was curious to know what that felt like, to be grown up, to go to a pub with my friends, to go to university. I have done them all now, and they are not as exciting as I once thought. I am still interested in the question what it is like to be older. I am curious to know what it is like to be 30, 40, 50. Maybe the question is the same , whatever your age? Maybe you just never really feel grown up?
I am curious to know at what point in my life I will feel grown up. — Iris Picken
Do you think younger people are more curious? Why?
No! I think they might have been in the past but now because of what is happening in the world, the climate crisis, the war in Ukraine, the hardline and divisive nature of politics, young people are too scared to be curious about the future. No one really knows what it is going to be like, and so many people my age are deeply fearful that it is going to be the end. We might mask it, but that fear is deep within our sub conscious.
If people of all ages asked more of the much needed ‘what if’ questions, then we could just flip the script on the so many deep challenges the world is facing. — Iris Picken
When your (she is pointing at me) generation were young there wasn’t a looming threat of mass extinction. Sometimes it feels easier to not think about the world. I wonder though, if we were more curious about the future, would we find ways to save the world as opposed to remaining set in our ways, destroying it. We should be asking questions such as ‘why are we not’ saving the world rather than ‘why’ save the world. I am deeply puzzled as to why people don’t want to stand up and save the world. I am intrigued why older people are not curious about it. I know you will say that is a stereotype (I do, vigorously) but I do want to know. Is it because we will have to deal with the problems in the future?
I don’t think there is a difference between curiosity across the generations. It depends on the person. I don’t think it is inherently a fact that you become less curious as you age. Maybe because there is a naivety to curiosity that people feel that it is something for children? Or that as people get older, they worry about being annoying asking questions all the time. Society values knowledge, knowing facts and certainty. Maybe if society was more curious and interested in the idea of things changing, always asking the ‘what if’ questions, then the world may be a different place, and we would have saved the planet by now. If people of all ages asked more of the much needed ‘what if’ questions, then we could just flip the script on the so many deep challenges the world is facing.
I believe people would be more curious if they knew it was ok to be wrong or not know something. — Iris Picken
We need to help people feel it is ok to be curious. That it is ok to not know all the answers, that it is ok to be naive. Why has ‘not knowing’ become such a problem, almost shameful? Society has made it a rule that knowing is a marker of intellect. But when you are really young, you are always asking questions such as, “Mum what do you do for a living?” “What are doing now?“, “Why do people die?“ and the one I wanted to ask you, “Why do you always wear high heels?” (she laughs again). Adults find the why, why, why so infuriating but kids’ don’t know the answers, they are simply curious and not embarrassed to say they do not know. At what point in our life does it become embarrassing to not know? I honestly believe people would be more curious if they knew it was ok to be wrong or not know something.
Do you think being curious could help you live longer? Why?
I think it probably does. The work of Becca Levy that I have been studying as part of my degree is interesting. Her work on the relationship between positive age beliefs and living longer makes me think that if you are more positive maybe you are more generally curious? Being excited by life, which I think being curious fundamentally is, will naturally encourage you to want to live longer. Of course, people get ill but curiosity can help you want to find out how to help yourself heal too.
I also think that life would be just more joyful if we asked more questions throughout our life rather than deciding at a certain age that we know everything we need to know. Being young is all about discovering who you are. Who decides at 30 for example, that you can’t keep on exploring who you are?
I am also hoping that the benefits of getting older — security money, less drama, autonomy, respect — are true and that they make you happy. Because on the whole happier people live longer. Although there are exceptions of miserable people living until a 100 (she laughs again).
What would like to be different when your grandchildren are 65?
I would like the world to exist. I worry so much about the future. That is my answer.
Until recently living to 140 could only be viewed as science fiction. Soon it could be Science fact. If you were to live to 140, would you be curious about how your life might look? What question would you like to ask of your future self?
There is no part of me that wants to live that long. It horrifies me. We are meant to die. It is the whole beauty of life. I would like to live longer but not to 140. That is double nanny’s life (she died at 77). I just want to be content. If I am like nanny for another 70 years, then please kill me. If I am in a chair, being fed from a tube and am cognitively switched off then no thanks. I don’t want to die but I don’t want to be dead but breathing. That is torture.
We need to constantly ask ourselves why we are doing what we are doing, are our decisions serving us. — Iris Picken
After this conversation what are you going to be more curious about now?
Why is there such an obsession with the perfect life? The 2.2 kids, the nice house with the picket fence and the one holiday a year? I want to be curious about everything, so I don’t end up having a bland life. Why is this the norm? It feels like a prison sentence. No one is questioning why we should aspire to this. We need to constantly ask ourselves why we are doing what we are doing, are our decisions serving us. No-one asks themselves ‘why’. We should all be more curious.