Since the death of the legendary science fiction author Ray Bradbury last week, there have been many statements of admiration and respect from a wide variety of people who were influenced by the man and his stories. One of the first statements after Bradbury’s death is particularly interesting. Speaking with io9.com, Bradbury’s grandson, Danny Karapetian, lovingly stated that Bradbury “was the biggest kid I know.”
Bradbury’s childlike enthusiasm toward nearly every topic he discussed is clearly evident in video clips of the author. In several of these clips, Bradbury has a large plastic dinosaur in his house, a visual representation of the unbreakable bond between his childhood interests and his final years of life. It’s remarkable that he remained so consistently excited and loved life so intensely since the 1920s. It’s difficult to know for certain how he accomplished this feat, but it’s helpful to pay attention to the children around us to gain insight.
Anyone who has ever seen the wide eyes and half-open mouth of a toddler knows that young children in particular are extremely curious about the world. While we remain curious about topics within our major, most students aren’t overcome with curiosity about every little thing we encounter in our day-to-day lives. In contrast, young children are fascinated with almost everything around them. Their eyes frequently scan their surroundings, fixating on objects both large and small.
Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist and host of “NOVA scienceNOW,” is a prominent advocate for the benefits of curiosity, particularly among children. “Kids are born scientists,” he said in an interview in December. “They’re born probing the natural world that surrounds them.” He argues that children should be allowed to conduct their own “experiments” by getting messy, banging household items together and touching their natural surroundings. “I think the best thing a parent can do, when raising a child, is simply get out of their way,” Tyson said.
It seems that as we become preoccupied with additional responsibilities and become more cynical about life, we lose some of this natural curiosity about the world around us. Yet, even though we aren’t children anymore and many of us won’t enter a science-related career field, all of us can still use our natural curiosity in more constructive ways than we could have as children. This allows us to use more sophisticated tools to explore our surroundings and run a lower risk of accidentally hurting ourselves in the process. Perhaps most importantly, a sustained, high level of curiosity allows our minds to actively consider new or less obvious concepts, which could help spark innovative ideas for a rapidly changing world.
Above all else, we should fully engage in everything we do and enjoy every minute of it, no matter how boring it may seem. One of the best examples of this concept is a popular YouTube video of a 3-year-old boy conducting the fourth movement of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. In the video, his exaggerated gestures and emotional facial expressions show that he’s completely in love with the music. At such a young age, he’s unrestrained by formal technique or the notion that he may possibly look foolish. He’s free to enjoy the music in an incredibly pure way. Unfortunately, we seem to lose some of this joyful innocence as we become older.
Ray Bradbury also had a very strong, pure love for books, comic strips and movies. In interviews, he repeatedly described how he “fell in love” with just about everything he did throughout his life. His enthusiasm is infectious and inspiring. As a result of Bradbury’s unwavering love for life, he created innovative stories that have inspired generations of readers.
We’re still young and have the ability to change our attitudes about the world around us. If we get in the habit of being curious about everything we do, constantly asking questions and digging deeper, the world becomes a much more interesting and beautiful place. And when we love a beautiful world, we naturally become curious about everything surrounding us. The powerful interaction between curiosity and love could be the secret to not just a successful career and a more innovative world, but also a more fulfilling life.
Bradbury himself summed up his life in the best words possible: “Here lies Ray Bradbury, who loved life completely.” Summer break is full of free time and infinite opportunities for discovery and enjoyment. It’s the perfect time to start living by Bradbury’s example.
Michael Spaeth can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.