Incurable Curiosity

In-cur-able: (adj.) Not likely to be changed. Cu-ri-os-i-ty: (n) A desire to know.

Leave a comment

The World Was More Interesting Then

“The world will never starve for want of wonders, but only for want of wonder.” – G. K. Chesterton

I’ve been reading a lot of old newspapers recently. This past November (Nov. 11, to be exact), I looked at microfiche of the local newspaper published on 11/11/1911. Honestly, nothing much was going on. The most interesting event that day was a public interest lecture on how certain fungi was affecting local agriculture.

But I was determined to find something worthwhile, so I asked how far back the archives went – amazingly, the library has film of newspapers dating back to before the turn of the 19th century, meaning I could search a Charleston paper from 1811. Let me say, that was far more interesting. Books by Jane Austen and Percy Bysshe Shelley were coming into port on the next British trade ship. The groundwork of the War of 1812 was being laid. Sabrina Island had just been formed by volcanic lava in the Atlantic Ocean. So yeah, there was a lot to talk about that day.

But it wasn’t the content of the articles as much as their voice that captured my attention. There was a wonder and curiosity about what was happening in the world that came through the block lettering. A sense of discovery in the reports of expeditions. I’ve found the same in newspapers from eras of war and scientific exploration.

World War I and II newspapers are fascinating, with their unyielding optimism despite uncertainty. Articles written during the Great Depression show an America looking outside herself for distraction. Papers of the 1950s and ’60s reveal the excitement of the space race and nuclear arms missions.

Something changed after that. It must have seemed like we had discovered all there was to discover. As travel became easier and medicine more refined, the world became smaller and safer; the romance and danger of the unknown was now outdated. The sense of wonder disappeared further with every advance of technology. Discoveries and breakthroughs became routine.  Now we demand something new with each day’s headlines.

But surely our sense of awe is not dependent on finding a new island to claim, or a revolutionary invention, is it? Is it possible to reset our perspectives to find wonder again? To regain the magic of the unknown?

Maybe it isn’t about what we know, but how we perceive what we don’t know that shapes our perspective.



MBTI Primer

The study of MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) has been a subject that has interested me for a while – well, longer than most theories interest me, anyway. People are never-ending puzzles, and MBTI theories seek to unlock those puzzles; how our personalities affect our worldview, career choice, and how we interact with other people.

I could get extremely technical with the psychology, but here’s the gist: Every person is naturally inclined towards certain general traits. The most familiar is Extrovert/Introvert, but there are 3 other traits to consider: Sensing/Intuitive, Thinking/Feeling, and Perceiving/Judging.

  • Extrovert and Introvert: Basically, this applies to how you interact with the world. Extroverts tend to focus on things outside themselves, while introverts are generally more introspective.
  • Sensing and Intuitive: This is how you take in and process information. These could also be called Concrete and Abstract, respectively.
  • Thinking and Feeling: How you express information and make decisions.
  • Perceiving and Judging: How you act on information. Perceivers tend to leave themselves lots of options, while Judgers prefer a definite plan.
Those are generalities meant to provide a broad description of the MBTI type theory. 
Your combination of general traits is categorized by the letters representing those traits (for example, an Extroverted Intuitive Thinking Judger would be an ENTJ).
Each type falls within one of four sub-types that share common traits: SJ’s, SP’s, NT’s, and NF’s.
  • SJ’s: ESTJ, ESFJ, ISTJ, ISFJ. These are the most common types in the population, and are usually known as Guardians. They share characteristics of being structured, reliable, practical, focused, and traditional. Basically, the world stays on its axis because of their efforts.
  • SP’s: ESTP, ESFP, ISTP, ISFP. These are the Artisans of the world; they live in the present, and they are usually bold, spontaneous, and competitive, brightening life for everyone with their artistic flair.
  • NT’s: ENTJ, ENTP, INTJ, INTP. These are the thinkers, philosophers and inventors of the world: the Rationals. These non-conformists push the limits and are proud of it; no establishment goes unquestioned and no question remains unanswered if they can help it.
  • NF’s: ENFJ, ENFP, INFJ, INFP. This special group comprises the smallest portion of the population; they are the Idealists and dreamers, the visionaries and healers who understand and communicate the weightier matters of life.
This is a very basic overview; there are many more in-depth resources available through a simple search. Below are some resources I’ve found especially useful:
  • This is a website dedicated to MBTI theory, with good descriptions of each type.
  • This is a free type test that I have found to be quite accurate.
  • Another free test, focusing on career paths.
  • Please Understand Me II, by David Keirsey (essentially the Keirsey website in book form).
In those resources, you’ll see mention of cognitive functions. That’s a rather intimidating term, and it’s easy to get things like introverted feeling and extroverted thinking confused. However, a good friend of mine has written an excellent explanation of functions on her blog , which I have re-posted here (thanks, Hattie!).

Leave a comment

The Art of Argument (Quotes)

A few (ok, so maybe more than a few) favorite quotes on the art of debate:

“It is better to debate a question without settling it than to settle a question without debating it.” – Joseph Joubert

“The aim of a debate or argument is not victory, but progress.” – Joseph Joubert

“Those who never retract their opinions love themselves more than they love truth.” – Joseph Joubert

“Don’t take the wrong side of the argument just because your opponent has taken the right side.” – Baltasar Gracian

“In heated argument we are apt to lose sight of the truth.” – Publilius Syrus

“There is no conversation so boring than the one where everybody agrees.” – Michel de Montaigne

“I have always felt that a person’s intelligence is directly reflected by the number of conflicting points of view he can entertain simultaneously on the same topic.” – Abigail Adams

“To talk to each other is but a more animated and audible thinking.” – Charlotte Bronte

“It is error only, and not truth, that shrinks from inquiry.” – Thomas Paine

“It is unnerving to be proven wrong, particularly when you are right and the person who is really wrong is proving you wrong, and proving himself, wrongly, right.” – Lemony Snicket

“The most important tactic in an argument next to being right is to leave an escape hatch for your opponent so that he can gracefully swing over to your side without an embarrassing loss of face.” – Stephen Jay Gould

Leave a comment

Manor Houses and Mill Villages

It’s true: history repeats itself. I noticed this particular connection while studying for a class on the Italian Renaissance. 

It’s the middle of the 11th century in the countryside of England. Harvest time has come again, just like it always has, with long days of back-breaking work and thoughts of the coming winter. A day’s work is not measured by hours, but rather by how much is brought in between dawn and dusk. The laborers are a varied lot, ranging in age from the youngest of toddlers learning their work to oldest of the aged who work according to memory rather than trust their failing sight. No able-bodied person is left idle, whether they are working in the fields, preparing wool to be spun into yarn, or tending to typical farm chores. This is the life of serfs in the manorial society of medieval Europe. Everything is centered around the ruling lord’s interests, and the controlled land is made almost entirely self-sufficient by the work of resident serfs. They earn the right to work the land by paying taxes out of the year’s increase in crops and livestock. But though the work is hard and the days long, there is something beyond basic necessity motivating the workers: the feast to be hosted by the lord of the manor as soon as harvest taxes are collected. It is part of the Harvest Festival, one of several such celebrations that take place during the year. Festivals always center around one of two things – seasonal events such as this one, and religious Holy Days. If asked whether they are happy with their life situation, the likely answer would be slightly confused – life is life, the same as it always has been and always will be, so there’s no reason in wasting time talking about it.

Move forward 9 centuries and 5,500 miles to the west to a rural region of  the southeastern United States. It’s almost Christmas, but celebrations are meager, with families using precious savings to make it as special as they can afford for the sake of the children yet innocent of the labor that is inevitably their lot in life. These are mill village families, who work 11-hour days in the booming textile industry of the early 19oos. They really can’t complain; the village offers steady employment, two churches to worship in, and a school educating through the 7th grade. True, the mill owner controls who gets promoted, hires ministers to preach on the value of hard work, and requires everyone over 12 to earn their keep at the mill, but he’s a good, generous man whose temper only gets away from him when workers slack off or product quality isn’t up to snuff. In fact, this village is better off than most: it even has its own lending library, created by a member of the mill’s establishing family a few years ago. Yes, there is time for recreation. Picnics and socials in the summer  – along with the newly-formed baseball team, which will soon compete against other local mill teams – and communal meals put on by upper-management wives during the holiday season. If asked their about their hopes for the next generation, the average worker’s answer may be hesitantly optimistic: with opportunities for education growing and travel becoming easier, their children might just have a chance at earning themselves a better life, although the mill will always be an option for secure employment.

Evidence of manorial life still exists in Europe through manor houses that have stood the test of time – the titles of their original owners even go with the property in some cases! And here in the South, remnants of industrial textile society are everywhere, from the mills themselves (for the most part abandoned, or else in the process of conversion into modernized living space or commercial offices) to their surrounding villages (some well-kept, others in poor repair). Go to nearly any historical society in a textile area and you’ll find collections of Depression-era photographs chronicling all aspects of mill life, from specific work duties to the unique community culture. This post doesn’t even begin to cover these two fascinating eras of history, so watch for more in-depth posts in the future!