I'm not sure this is the right place to ask this question.

I've noticed that almost everyone I have met is intellectually uncurious. In a world where our daily lives depend on technology that would have been called magic a century ago (cell phones, computers, etc...), it's hard for me to understand why people aren't even interested in how it all works. Perhaps they've hust gotten used to it - I once I asked a friend if he knew how his computer worked, and his reponse was no, and I don't care I just use it".

This lack of intellectual curiosity sadly permeates into academic settings, in my experience. Even my peers who study mathematics and engineering don't understand my fascination at lightning storms, or an airplane passing overhead,etc. The physics students seem to be pretty curious in general, but I don't understand. My engineering friends always tell me the same thing "we don't need to understand it at a deep level in order to build new things with it".

I thought kids were naturally curious creatures? I would guess it's a result of bad schooling, but i've never heard of teachers actively discouring asking good questions.

So what's going on here? What factors contribute to the apparent lack of intellectual curiosity amongst the general public, but more importantly amongst STEM students.

  • 13
    I find your generalizations baffling. You should at least indicate where you are. I have intellectually stimulating conversations with my colleagues almost every lunch break.
    – user9482
    Commented Jul 29, 2017 at 7:01
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    You seem to say: how come most people don't have the same interests as me? This is a very narrow minded question. If people don't have diverse interests, then we would not have the arts for example, and no reasons why the kardashians are so successful. Commented Jul 29, 2017 at 9:03
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    Although I think this question is bit unfair, I still vote to "Leave Open" because it's legit. I think most people are curious enough to want to know a lot things, but just don't have enough time and energy to do it. I always want to know how automobile work when I drive a car. I always want to know why the airplanes fly when I am flying. I always want to know why the high blood pressure pills I am taking can lower my blood pressure, ...etc. But, obviously, I don't have so much time to understand all of them. So, I just drive my car to the airport, fly an airplane and then take a BP pill.
    – Nobody
    Commented Jul 29, 2017 at 9:42
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    Well you can not expect everyone to be intellectually curious about everything can you? I mean take the classical generalised example of a Doctor or a Scholar who's extremely intelligent and disciplined in his own line of work. He simply does not care about how a computer works as long as it serves his needs. I feel the same way about cars. I really couldn't care less about how they function if they just take me from A to B.
    – DottoreM
    Commented Jul 29, 2017 at 10:42
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    I'm wary of anything that starts looking like intellectual elitism, but on the other hand, I do wonder about whether schools and/or stereotypes and/or peer pressure in adolescence end up suppressing curiosity. Janna Levin puts it this way: "All kids are scientists, and all kids are artists. They all read. How is it that we give up such big things?" I'm not an expert so I'll stop shortly, but Ken Robinson has given some well-viewed talks about how to make schools places that champion creativity.
    – trikeprof
    Commented Jul 29, 2017 at 18:32

4 Answers 4


The OP seems to imply that it is a kind of moral failing to not be curious about everything. Plokavian's answer is good for covering why many people simply do not have the time to be curious, but I think that their answer fails to cover two points: 1) people in academia who are, to a certain extent, paid to be curious; and 2) why should everyone need to be scientifically curious?

People in Academia

What do you think drives people to pursue graduate studies in the first place? There are many factors, but in my experience curiosity is one of the top factors.

In applied science I have met researchers who study the patterns that water drops form when they land on a surface. They openly admitted that they have no idea what application it could be used for, but they thought it was interesting so they spent some time investigating it. In other words: purely out of curiosity. Even in areas of research where the application is clear, a lot of research seems to start with the question "I wonder what would happen if...?". That is, curiosity. Why would they care how a computer works? They have other things that they find more interesting that they would rather spend their time on.

Why do people need to be scientifically curious?

The OP seems to define curiosity as a desire to understand how things work, such as technology or physical phenomena and seems to conflate curiosity with intellectual stimulation. But there are many ways to be intellectually stimulated without being curious about how everything works from a scientific perspective.

Consider engineering (my field). I know many students who left their undergrad to work in industry. Of course some of them only pursued the degree for a good stable job (nothing wrong with that!) but many others derived great satisfaction (dare I say, intellectual stimulation) from solving problems. To them, a computer is not necessarily something that needs to be understood down to its finest workings. Instead, a computer might be a tool in a big project that is working towards solving a problem for a client. It is the pursuit of the solution that drives them, not a need to understand how all of their tools work.

Consider a doctor trying to decide on the best treatment for a patient (often many patients). It is a complex problem that requires a significant amount of intellect. The doctor draws satisfaction from solving the problem and restoring health to their patients.

Consider an artist (not necessarily my forte!). They may want to explore new ways of expressing ideas or emotions. Exploration of any kind is fundamentally an act of curiosity. They may be curious about how people react to a piece of performance art. They may be trying to solve a problem of how to abstract concepts or objects to their simplest forms (see abstract art).

Finally, some people simply have other priorities in life. It is not a moral failing on their part! We need scientists and engineers and mathematicians and doctors and artists and many others who push forwards in their fields in the name of intellectual stimulation. But there is much more to society than that!

  • Another interpretation of researchers who do research that has no practical applications is that this unique activity will lead to a published paper(s) opening doors for new funding opportunities. The claim that academics have a choice to decide on what they want to do is generally quite constrained. Commented Apr 7, 2021 at 20:44

You have answered your own question.

If the world is full of what would have been considered magic, it is simply impossible for someone to have the time to inquire into everything.

Take an average person, they have a job, which may or may not be intellectually stimulating. Then factor in any commuting time. They must also take care of hygiene needs, and eat. They need to buy food, take care of any general household maintenance.

Then to be healthy they must exercise, and also sleep. At this point they really don't have much time left to spend being intellectually curious, and will undoubtedly be tired from everything else.

This assumes that they have no children, or disabled or injured relatives or friends to care for. And notice that any social activities are also absent. Include these and there is simply not enough time.

So exuding any intellectual curiosity leaves one with a negative total time. With a society permeated with complex technology it is simply far easier, less stressful, and most importantly, less time consuming, to not inquire.

If you then convince yourself, and others, that you dont care, then this will lessen any misery from not being able to inquire.


I'll reword the question. Why some people ask a lot of questions and love to explore new stuff, while majority are set in their traditional ways and avoid questioning things too much? To answer this question look into the evolution of the human society and evolution of species in general. It's obvious that the psychological requirements for a successful hunter and gatherer would be quite different from a farmer. The hunter would be trying to survive from day to day and his life would depend on planning for one day ahead only. The rest was uncertainty. It's a lot of risk and requires intense analysis of his immediate situation. On the other hand, farmers didn't need to be inquisitive in their minute by minute life. They needed to plan and follow established practices. The one who experimented a lot was not likely to survive. Ever since the time when farmers outnumbered hunters and gatherers it's been that way: majority maintained established traditions and stability of the society. Minority was able to find their niche performing various tasks that required intellectual curiosity and risk taking. It's a balanced symbiotic relationship and no need to be smug about it.


I think there is another point that the other answers have not touched upon, and that is that people may be curious about the world around them but they need to draw the line somewhere.

The OP mentions a fascination with lightning storms as an example of good curiosity. The question I would ask is: at what point is your curiosity satisfied? Maybe you're satisfied knowing simply that lightning is a flow of electricity between the clouds and the ground. Or maybe you want to know more, i.e. that the electricity flows due to a difference in charge. But how was that difference in charge created? How does the electricity flow through the air? Why does it strike certain locations? Why does it make a noise (thunder)? Why is there a delay between the lightning strike and the thunder? Why is light faster than sound? How does sound travel? How does light travel? Why is the speed of light constant for a given material? Ad infinitum.

As I hope is demonstrated from the example above, scientific questions lead to more scientific questions. That's great if your hobby is learning about science, but many people have other ways they would prefer to spend their free time. Therefore, at some point you have to draw the line and say "I don't know everything about how [phenomenon] works, but I feel like I get the idea." Everyone has a differing level of curiosity, and there's nothing wrong with that.

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