October 5, 2020
By Arthur H. Gunther III
Curiosity, we are warned, killed the cat, but the naysayers never tell you about the nine lives.
Curiosity was a welcome trait for Thomas Edison and Albert Einstein, who thought out of the box, who applied independent, non-conformist learning skills to their journey.
Einstein’s son Hans Albert said that his father was “withdrawn from the world even as a boy.” Had he been the traditionalist, he might have ended up a fine professor instead of spending 10 years daydreaming about gravity and the speed of light and whether a fellow saw himself in a mirror the same way traveling through space as he would moored to earth. His E=MC squared formula might not have been written. And, so, the good, and as Einstein noted, the bad in “progress.”
Thomas Edison tinkered in his lab with a similarly inspired staff, trying this and that out of curiosity much more than straight applied science. Had he followed strict dictum, he and his people might have given up. If they had let curiosity kill the cat the first time out on light bulb filaments, there would have been no ninth life, no pushed curiosity that found carbonized thread as the winner. And then there was light, literally.
Edward Hopper, the famed American realist painter whose works of solitude are so especially defining to the crazy world right now, spent long, non-painting months in utter curiosity, going to 1930s movies, peering out his Washington Square studio window, looking away from the sea at South Truro, Mass., walking Gotham’s streets and reaching into his file cabinet of a mind for human and architectural sketches filed on so many trips of curiosity. He took what he needed, and when the time was right, he brushed in strokes of interpretation that make us shiver.
So, I say to all of you, especially the young yet unspoiled by too many limiting rules: Go for it – be curious, day dream, move to a different, unique place in your mind. Be independent, dare to “go to infinity.” This America, in particular, this nation right now in a time of virus, in this suffering moment of wrongs and inequalities, needs your innovation.
The writer is a retired newspaperman. firstname.lastname@example.org This essay is adapted from an earlier one.