Jerry Brotton

What Killed the Cat?

Curiosity: How Science Became Interested in Everything


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The history of curiosity is, as Philip Ball points out in this wonderful and highly entertaining study of its role in scientific enquiry, curious. Aristotle dismissed curiosity as an aimless tendency to pry into things that did not concern us. After all, it was Pandora’s curiosity that unleashed the evils of mankind by opening the jar given to her by Zeus. Early Christianity was even more intemperate, condemning curiosity as a mortal sin. ‘We want no curious disputation after possessing Christ,’ insisted Tertullian; while the King James Bible thundered, ‘Be not curious in unnecessary matters’ (Ecclesiastes 3:23). So how did the word from the Latin cura, meaning ‘care’, come to define virtually all Western scientific endeavour, from Bacon’s scientific method to the Large Hadron Collider’s stated mission to continue ‘a tradition of human curiosity that’s as old as mankind itself’? 

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