The Role of Knowledge in Curiosity

There is a bush on my run covered in lichen. When the sun shines on it in the winter, the whole bush grows orange. It’s always very striking, but I never stopped to look at it closely, until I read about lichens.

Golden Shield Lichen

I’m not going to tell you about lichens (you can make a start here and I can strongly recommend Merlin Sheldrake’s book: Entangled Life), but the basic idea is that they aren’t a single organism: they are a system – a fungi paired with an algae. The fungi provides the structure and also obtains the nutrients for the system. The algae photosynthesises to produce sugars.

So, suddenly I am much more curious about this bush and the other lichen I see. I needed the knowledge before I could be curious. My list of questions include:

  • How do two separate organisms reproduce and they do it separately or at the same time? Can the fungi and algae survive separately? If separately, when do they come together and how do they find each other? Does the fungi harm the tree it’s on?

Here is the key relationship between knowledge and curiosity: the more knowledge you have, the more curious you can be. As a teacher, I can’t expect my pupils to be curious about something, until they have sufficient knowledge to appreciate that something is odd, mysterious or wonderful. You don’t need to teach curiosity, you need to teach knowledge.

I’m sure some of you will disagree – happy to talk about it.


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