Blog of Sara Jakša

Epistemic Curiosity or Different Levels of Learning

When I am reading or when I get an idea, I usually write it down on a small piece of paper. And then hopefully, some day I return to it to do something about it - though there are quite a lot of them. The one that I had this time was about epistemic curiosity. It was a following quote:

'We need to cultivate the "epistemic curiosity" - not a scattered quest for novelty, but a focused disciplined commitment to mastering a new terrain.

It was a quote from the book Curious. Considering that I liked the quote enough, that I wrote it down, means that I ended up reading the whole book. And also an encyclopedic entry of what exactly epistemic curiosity is. For people not wanting to read the 3 page pdf, the edited copy of the definition is posted below:

Epistemic curiosity is the desire to obtain new knowledge expected to stimulate intellectual interest or eliminate conditions of informational deprivation.

That actually made me think about the different levels of how much do I learn about the subject. Let me take the subject of curiosity. One mention somewhere (I am sure Google would find the place I encountered it) lead me to read a book about it. But this was about it. The same is true for some other things. Some of the classes, that I was not that interested in, are also a good example. Like the Information system management, or Grounded cognition and so on. There I listened to the lectures, maybe read a little about it, but I mostly left it alone. I guess this is sort of diverse curiosity, where experiencing something new is the most important. The more for me unproductive way of doing this would be checking the social media feeds.

The second level is where I think epistemic curiosity takes place. This would be, where there is an active search for information. One example of this for me would be the effect of technology on people. Since October or maybe November, I have been listing every scientific article and book that I read. So in about half a year since then, I have read the following books on this topic:

  • Geek heresy by Kentaro Toyama
  • Technically Wrong by Sara Wachter-Boettcher
  • The Filter Bubble by Eli Pariser
  • Life 3.0 by Max Tegmark
  • The future of the mind by Michio Kaku
  • On the internet by Hubert Dreyfus
  • The Coming Robot Revolution by Yoseph Bar-Cohen and David Hanson
  • The Shallows by Nicholas Carr
  • The Aisles Have Eyes by Joseph Turow
  • The Post-Mobile Society edited by Hidenori Tomita
  • Digital dieting by Tara Brabazon
  • i-Minds by Mari Swingle

This means that I have a steady rate of reading, on average, around 2 books about this topic only. And here I am only counting books, and not scientific articles or any other material, like reading blogs while mindlessly surfing on the web.

The second way of doing a second level is a bit more practical. For example, I participated in the emergence of beliefs project in order to learn more about empirical phenomenology. I did a small project in innovation research. In order to learn about computational modeling, I did the project on creating songs with evolutionary algoritms. So it does not have to be only reading, it can be working on something in order to learn something new.

On the third level, in my thinking, is not so much about the depth, as it is the difference between exploring and exploiting. It is the same concepts, whenever we are talking about learning algorithms, evolutionary perspective of personality or even some other fields, that so far did not slap me in the face with it :). This is when the knowledge, collected with the first two levels, are applied to solve a problem. One example is, that I am using theory of reasoned actions and personality to help with with my economic master thesis, that I am currently writing about. The theory of reasoned actions is an earlier and simpler version of the theory of planned behavior, that we hat to use for our group project for Actors, Behavior and Decision Making class (which included doing the whole research). The personality is just something that I am repeatedly reading about.

I call this the third level, not because it is better than the previous two, but because it is impossible to do well without doing any of the previous levels. The same is true for the second level. It is hard to become interested in something, without ever being exposed to it before. And it is the second level, the epistemic curiosity of doing things in order to learn and to accumulate and create new knowledge, that is the foundation of having enough knowledge to be able to communicate about and solve the problems encountered in our world.

Plus, it is fun. In a sort of, I guess, a geeky way.