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How the Curiosity Project Works

        Science | Evolution

The Origin of the Curiosity Project
John Hendricks' questions as a child about the moon planted the seeds of his lifelong curiosity and eventually led to The Curiosity Project.
John Hendricks' questions as a child about the moon planted the seeds of his lifelong curiosity and eventually led to The Curiosity Project.
Space Frontiers/Getty Images

In a way, The Curiosity Project has been in the pipeline since the 1950s. Back in 1957, a young John Hendricks came upon a book he says that kicked the whole thing off.

"I do what I do because of this lifelong curiosity," says Hendricks. "I stumbled upon a Golden Book in 1957 when I was 5 years old about a trip to the moon, and I became totally obsessed with the question of whether humans could go to the moon."

Hendricks credits that book for planting the seeds of his love of learning new things for the sole sake of learning them -- the very definition of curiosity. Those seeds -- how did the moon get there, how do we get to the moon, will we ever live on the moon, will the moon always be around? -- largely form the framework of The Curiosity Project. It exists because there are unanswered questions out there.

This, too, is the basis of curiosity. Appropriately, science can't fully explain what's called trait curiosity, the lifelong desire to learn about a number of new things or dedicate oneself to a deep understanding of a narrow topic [source: Lowenstein]. In many cases, there's no immediate benefit to the person seeking out this new information; a person who learns a foreign language may never travel to a country where it's spoken and a kid who learns to play the piano may never aspire to become professional concert pianist. Yet many of us still experience an urge to learn more, and all of us may benefit when someone embarks on a period of exploration.

"Curiosity is what drives our progress," Hendricks says. "It's so important but people don't know how to define it and science isn't sure how to approach it. Is it genetic? Does it come from outside stimuli or is it internally created? How does it work?"

In securing partnerships with experts in academia, Hendricks found that the inherent lack of understanding of the nature of curiosity kept coming up during meetings. As the issue was raised consistently at MIT, Yale and other institutions, it became clear that "What is curiosity?" warranted its own hour-long investigation.

"It will be one of the first episodes," says Hendricks.

When viewers tune into The Curiosity Project, they can rest assured their curiosity will be piqued.