The Limits of Curiosity

In principle, I agree with the notion that it is unforgivable to not want to know, and not want to improve your map to match the territory.  However, even the most curious person in the world cannot maintain equal curiosity about all things, and even if they could there are limits on time and energy.  In general, the things that inspire curiosity are determined by your personal likes, dislikes, and biases, and it is therefore worth considering carefully where these demarcations fall so as not to deprive ourselves of useful information.  This is particularly important when it comes to things that inspire not just lack of interest, but aversion, or "anti-curiosity."

However, not all information is useful, and it can be useful to encourage a bias that cuts you off from information that is not particularly useful to you, so as to better allocate your time and energy.  It is possible that it could also be useful to fabricate an "I don't want to know" stance about a certain type of information so as to better allocate your time, (for example, ceasing to watch television, and denying curiosity about what is happening on your favorite shows), but I will not discuss or advocate that here, largely because it's all I can do to hold the line against new time wasters.

The difficulty and danger of this method is that it is best accomplished by not thinking about the things you don't want to be curious about, and that can lead to not even realizing you aren't curious about them, so important things may slip through the cracks.  For example, I have never smoked a cigarette, and it requires no effort on my part to not be curious about what it is like.  That is such a deeply buried aversion that I might never have consciously noticed that lack of curiosity if I had not been writing this article.  In this case, lack of curiosity about smoking is beneficial, but it could just as easily have been something that would be useful for me to be curious about, and I might never have noticed.

Analyzing your own areas of anti-curiosity is extremely difficult, both because your brain rebels at thinking about things it habitually doesn't think about, and because you will likely find a lack of rhyme or reason in which things you are anticurious about.  Questioning things deeply held enough that you don't think about them is always deeply uncomfortable.

Many such anti-curiosity regions are more a matter of personal preference than anything else.  One of mine falls in the area of video games: I've never played them much, and I deliberately cultivate a lack of curiosity about them because I don't believe the enjoyment or value they might give me would outweigh the amount of my precious time they would likely take up if I started.  However, I spend more time than perhaps I should reading fanfiction.  There are probably people reading this who are just the opposite, and there probably isn't any real difference between the two positions.

There are also many such regions that result from not having much knowledge or skill in an area, and, rather than rectifying the knowledge gap, developing a sense of superiority or disdain in relation to the area.  One fairly common topic for this to occur around (at least for women) is the application of makeup.  It is one I had to overcome myself.  I didn't know how to put on makeup well as a teenager, and hadn't really tried, and looked down on the sorts of girls who came to class after an obvious half-hour beauty regimen.  There were all sorts of plausible excuses for my disdain (women shouldn't make themselves into Barbies, intellect is more important, etc. ), but the real root reason was that I couldn't do it myself.  It took time to overcome that enough to realize the real benefits to having that knowledge (even if I still don't bother on a daily basis), but there *are* real benefits to having that knowledge.  At the very least, makeup is an expected part of formal or business attire for women in the US, and there are tangible benefits to following such social conventions regardless of how logical they are.

It is more difficult to overcome such an issue if it is rooted in lack of ability rather than lack of knowledge.  I have long recognized intellectually the value of recognizing and responding appropriately to social cues, but it doesn't come easily to me, and my frustration often manifests itself in a feeling that I don't want to know.  Recognizing that and overcoming it is an ongoing process.

Maintaining a balance on such things is difficult.  I know that in areas in which I am comfortable, I excel at optimization, but if I am uncomfortable I subscribe strongly to the "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" philosophy.  Both approaches have their merits and their place, the challenge is maintaining awareness of which I am using and why I am using it so that I don't fall into a trap of willful ignorance.

Even when you have identified an area in which you should reverse course and cultivate curiosity, the battle is not over.  You still have to overcome the hurdle of learning about the subject.  However, I am not qualified to write an article on overcoming procrastination because I am not nearly successful enough at avoiding it.

49 comments, sorted by
magical algorithm
Highlighting new comments since Today at 11:33 AM
Select new highlight date

However, not all information is useful, and it can be useful to encourage a bias that cuts you off from information that is not particularly useful to you, so as to better allocate your time and energy

This is a general version of paulfchristiano's argument against pure mathematics. My response is the same: while it is theoretically possible to be too curious (or have too much of any "good" thing), in practice humans are far more likely to err on the side of not being curious enough.

There is a reason why people who make great contributions are often described as being atypically curious. Whereas I have a hard time thinking of any great figure whose principal virtue was anti-curiosity.

Procrastination is a problem, but cutting off curiosity is a bad strategy for dealing with it, like amputating an arm to cure carpal tunnel syndrome. Try instead to cultivate enthusiasm for working on your project, rather than an aversion to collecting information (apparently) not related to it.

I think you are probably right that people who make a great contribution to humanity tend to be unusually curious. But that doesn't mean that being unusually curious is rational for individuals.

Most people are highly unlikely to make a great contribution even if they really wanted to, and most people have other priorities anyway.

Kevin Laland and others recently ran a tournament to study how different learning strategies fared in evolution (Science 328: 208-213). They found that under a very broad range of conditions winning strategies tended to a) copy others rather than innovate and b) learn little, exploit a lot. This suggests that contestants generally overestimated the instrumental value of curiosity.

I think you are probably right that people who make a great contribution to humanity tend to be unusually curious. But that doesn't mean that being unusually curious is rational for individuals.

Replace "curious" with "X", and you've got a Fully General argument against any claim that it's rational to imitate people who make a great contribution.

Most people are highly unlikely to make a great contribution even if they really wanted to

...which may be due in part to their lack of curiosity...

and most people have other priorities anyway

Most people don't read LW. Among people who do, I expect a higher than normal percentage to have goals for which curiosity is atypically instrumentally valuable.

But even in general: most people's priority is maximizing their status. I claim that curiosity is positively correlated with status. (I don't claim the correlation is perfect.)

Kevin Laland and others recently ran a tournament to study how different learning strategies fared in evolution....[which] suggests that contestants generally overestimated the instrumental value of curiosity.

If your only goal is maximizing inclusive genetic fitness, then the "instrumental value" of a trait that only one species on Earth possesses is indeed unlikely to be very high.

I would define curiosity as a tendency to explore one's environment without immediate material incentives, and to learn through this exploration. By this definition I doubt that any species entirely lacks curiosity - but perhaps we are using different definitions?

Examples. A cellular slime mold population will explore a maze, learning the most efficient route. Ant nests continually send out explorers to new areas, learning the locations of resources. Bacterial populations increase their mutation rate in new environments, exploring the space of possible forms and learning through adaptation to these new environments.

I wasn't intending to suggest that curiosity is worthless. On the contrary, I think it's crucial for the long-term success of any population. My point was merely that the optimal level of curiosity for a rational individual isn't obvious, so we should be cautious about promoting it unconditionally on a rationality blog.

For example, I am pretty sure I would be far more successful - even in terms of social contribution and status - if I didn't spend so many hours clicking through random Wikipedia pages and designing small experiments to test obscure personal ideas. Maybe other LW readers are over-curious information junkies like me? How do we know?

I know I am, so I generally only spend a large amount of time fulfilling my curiosity in areas where I have the expertise to make some kind contribution, perhaps i will miss some opportunities, but even devoting my spare time to programming I am too rushed as it is.

If your only goal is maximizing inclusive genetic fitness, then the "instrumental value" of a trait that only one species on Earth possesses is indeed unlikely to be very high.

Are humans the only species on Earth that have curiosity?

Are humans the only species on Earth that have curiosity?

Yes, approximately. A few other species may possess primitive analogues, but even if you throw those in the proportion of species is extremely low.

Anecdotally, he fitness pressure of curiosity on cats appears to be negative.

Also anecdotally, fulfilled curiosity has made catkind among the first species to perfect resurrection.

Also anecdotally, fulfilled curiosity has made catkind among the first species to perfect resurrection.

Or at least quantum immortality.

Cats presumably have a reputation for having nine lives because they are observed in situations where they appear to narrowly escape dying, by a hair's-breadth chance.

I was comparing this to quantum immortality, while making an indirect reference to Schrodinger's cat as well... implying that Schrodinger's cat always turns up alive, due to cats' quantum immortality-based nine-lives capability. ;-)

(Cat-thropic principle, perhaps?)

Ailuric principle. (anthropos = human, ailouros = cat)

Can you show some research on that claim? Specifically, you seem to be claiming that theres a difference in kind (rather than just degree) between my own curiosity and that of other creatures.

Having observed a puppy gleefully searching new stuff found in his territory, or new people and places that he's just been introduced to and similar-seeming behaviour in other animals - I'm uncertain that we could claim they were non-curious.

I personally see little difference in kind between that and the similar actions seen in baby humans. The fact that a human is far better able to direct their curiosity, I think is based on our different quantity, or capacity for intelligent curiosity.

Can you show some research on that claim?...Having observed a puppy gleefully searching new stuff found in his territory...I'm uncertain that we could claim they were non-curious.

Number of species according to Wikipedia: at least 7 million, of which:

  • at least 5 million (71%) are bacteria
  • 1,203,375 (17%) are invertebrate animals
  • 297,326 (4%) are plants
  • 59,811 (0.8%) are vertebrate animals, of which 5,416 (0.07%) are mammals (the category that includes humans, chimpanzees, dogs, and every other species to which the emotion of "curiosity" might conceivably be attributed).

"Species" != "things like cute puppies".

While this is true (and I've upvoted your remark) I'd be curious if there are many examples of smart species that don't exhibit curiosity. As far as I can tell, pretty close to all species which are fairly intelligent and raise their young exhibit curiosity. Canines, felines, most primates, corvids and many other species of birds, and elephants all seem to do this.

Some invertebrates, such as octopi and mantis shrimp, appear to exhibit curiosity. And some bird species are intelligent enough to be capable with basic communication with humans. Mammals may contain the most intelligent species known, but that doesn't mean they have a monopoly on intelligence or curiosity.

The "a few other species may have primitive analogues" disclaimer was supposed to cover things like this.

See above. This is not about human or mammalian chauvinism. This is about the fact that, whatever neat things some species can do, there also exist numerous biological niches that do not in fact involve higher-level cognitive functions such as "curiosity". Most organisms don't even have brains, for goodness' sake.

5,416 species is a LOT. Even if only 20, or 10, of these species have 'curiosity', that's still a very different thing from ONLY humans having curiosity.

I personally see little difference in kind between that and the similar actions seen in baby humans. The fact that a human is far better able to direct their curiosity, I think is based on our different quantity, or capacity for intelligent curiosity.

Precisely what I thought. A dog's curiosity doesn't get it as far as a human's does, since a dog has much less capacity for symbolic thought (but probably still some capacity) and no way to record its thoughts or share the thoughts of other dogs.

I'd say "what about birds?", but that wouldn't increase things much.

Interesting list... but the counter-claim does not require that 100% of all species on the earth have curiosity, but that curiosity exists in some non-human species.

Therefore only a single example (eg a cute puppy) will destroy that claim.

Actually listing the numbers of non-cute species does not in any way help the original claim.

Therefore only a single example (eg a cute puppy) will destroy that claim.

This kind of nitpicking is a form of logical rudeness, not to mention being a violation of the principle of charity.

Let me remind you again what I said, with emphasis added:

Are humans the only species on Earth that have curiosity?

Yes, approximately. A few other species may possess primitive analogues, but even if you throw those in the proportion of species is extremely low.

(For some utterly bizarre reason this entirely reasonable and completely correct comment is currently sitting at -2.)

It is perfectly clear from the literal wording, never mind the context, that the statement is approximate, not absolute. Furthermore, the approximate claim was all that was necessary for the argument I was making -- so that even if I had made an absolute claim (in the sense of literal wording), you still should have interpreted it as an approximate or probabilistic claim by the principle of charity (as well as the principle of sticking-to-the-point-of-the-discussion-and-not-derailing-the-flow-of-discourse-with-an-attempt-to-gain-status-points-by-showing-off-your-knowledge-of-how-to-form-the-logical-negation-of-a-statement).

To do what you have done here is simply to create a communication barrier where none need have existed. As a result of this tangential argument-over-nothing, the original point has gotten completely lost, and I am now feeling a sensation of acute irritation despite having no idea whether you or any of the other nitpickers who have flocked to this subthread actually have a substantive disagreement with me or not.

Here, for the record, is my argument:

(1) Only a small minority of Earth's species have curiosity.

(2) Therefore, curiosity is not necessary for maximizing inclusive genetic fitness.

(3 Therefore, we should not be surprised by results such as that cited by lix.

If anyone actually has anything interesting to say against this argument, let them say it. Otherwise, let's not bother.

Wow, this is a really strong comment over something that I hadn't realised was so important to you.

Sure thing - if what I said was not relevant to the main point of your conclusion - tell me that... but accusing me of status-seeking, purposeful-derailment and showing-off is a bit strong for a simple question about your claim.

...and I still have to point out that earlier, you did claim that humanity was the only species with curiosity [emphasis added by me] :

If your only goal is maximizing inclusive genetic fitness, then the "instrumental value" of a trait that only one species on Earth possesses is indeed unlikely to be very high.

It's fine if you then changed that point in your argument, and maybe I missed it due to miscommunication...

but I'd rather you point out "oops, you got my argument wrong" than "you're purposefully trying to create barriers to communication".

I find it ironic that you have brought up the principle of charity at this point...

you see, you've assumed that I was trying to derail your argument... which is particularly uncharitable about my intentions.

Actually, I'll be honest: I really couldn't care less about your argument - I'm actually (still) interested in what I originally asked...

You claimed to know something about curiosity in non-human species... and I'm curious about curiosity in non-human species.

So as I originally asked: do you have any actual research on that subject?

Wow, this is a really strong comment over something that I hadn't realised was so important to you.

I can understand how it might seem that way, but you have to realize that this was in the context of a perfectly fine comment being downvoted to -3 (!), in addition to what felt like a flurry of comments suggesting I was displaying zoological ignorance and underestimating the intellects of puppies and octopi.

This particular subtopic isn't important to me at all; what's important to me is being able to efficiently have discussions on a high level of sophistication, without having to spend time and effort plugging status leaks resulting from someone's misunderstanding (willful or not) of my words.

you've assumed that I was trying to derail your argument... which is particularly uncharitable about my intentions.

No, I didn't assume that you were trying to derail the argument (read the comment again, carefully!); I just noted that you had, in fact, derailed it.

And, of course, I don't think the status-seeking/showing-off was deliberate or conscious on your part. It's what we're always doing, all the time, mostly unconsciously. We can't stop it, and nor should we; status is a basic need for neurologically normal humans (and yes, that category includes readers of LW). What we have to do is learn to recognize when it's interfering with our other aims, and make adjustments to reduce this interference.

For example, before making a correction to someone's comment (by default, an aggressive status move), ask yourself whether you will be communicating new information to the person -- something relevant to the discussion that they genuinely didn't know. If so, then -- especially in a setting like this, where information is highly valued -- it will usually be worth the tradeoff, and the person may even be grateful for the correction, willing to pay the status cost in exchange for the info. Otherwise, however, unless you're careful to signal that you're not making a status challenge (generally accomplished by packing your correction full of deferential language), you will most likely just end up provoking a verbal battle that won't actually produce anything of intellectual value.

The latter is basically what happened in this instance. I'm a pretty regular reader and commenter on this site, where knowledge of the basics of logic tends to be taken as a matter of course. As such, I can be assumed to be well-versed in the fact that the negation of a statement of the form "for all x, P(x)" is a statement of the form "there exists x such that not-P(x)". Consequently, pointing out to me that, as you put it,

the counter-claim does not require that 100% of all species on the earth have curiosity, but that curiosity exists in some non-human species.

is not informative. Instead, it's more like you "caught" me making a "mistake" in the "debate game", and are now seizing upon it to "score a point" -- as if we were playing chess, and I made a blunder that you were going to exploit.

Now, it's true that I did originally say that "only one" species possessed curiosity. However, somebody before you actually asked whether I meant that literally -- and I responded with a comment that should have made it clear (albeit implicitly) that my remark had been mainly an allusion not to human superiority over other intelligent mammals, but to the fact that most living species are things like bacteria. I then made that point explicit when you commented with your puppy anecdote. At this stage there should have been no room for misunderstanding about what my point was: even if we completely grant the strongest claims of animal enthusiasts, curiosity is still rare among life on Earth.

You claimed to know something about curiosity in non-human species

This is where you misunderstood. My claim was not about whether the animal enthusiasts are correct or not. Maybe they are, maybe they aren't. (I tend to think that even if they are, human curiosity is still an exceptional outlier of a phenomenon, if only quantitatively.) But regardless, the only thing I claimed to know was that if a species isn't human it probably doesn't have curiosity. Given that 71% of species are bacteria I regard that claim as trivially true.

Sure thing - looks like I misunderstood your reply to my first comment... But I think you have also misunderstood my intent. let me try to explain.

For example, before making a correction to someone's comment (by default, an aggressive status move), ask yourself whether you will be communicating new information to the person -- something relevant to the discussion that they genuinely didn't know

I think this may be where you misunderstood me.

I wasn't trying to add to your ongoing discussion (which looks like it's something about genetic fitness as it relates to curiosity).

In fact I was merely skimming the comments and happened to notice your first claim about curiosity being only in humans. I happened to be intrigued by that claim and asked if you had more information about the subject (and gave a counter-example).

I wasn't interested in what came before that comment of yours - which is why I said above that I couldn't care less about the argument you were making...

I also wasn't reading other people's comments, or your replies to the other comments - I in fact had no idea that you had already replied to some other person's comment that should have somehow made it all clear. I happened to be reading your replies to my comments only (which you do when you get the little orange mail-icon).

When you make comments - please be aware that not everybody is actually following the full discussion.

Therefore I think you have assumed a negative overtone that really wasn't intended... ever in my comments. I really was just interested in hearing if you had any research on curiosity in other species.

Sure thing - I can absolutely see your point about proportions of species that are curious... now that you've made it clear to me in a thread that I'm actually following.

Instead, it's more like you "caught" me making a "mistake" in the "debate game"

hmmm - I don't play the debate game so well. You're quite right that I seized upon what I saw as a mistake of yours... but again, you assume my intent.

Can you tell me, from speaking to me, how much of the sequences I have read? Is it a little? is it a lot? am I a brand new newcomer to the site? Or have I been secretly lurking here for years without posting until recently? I can tell you that I'm not very good at guessing that kind of thing... and clearly, here I made a mistake.

I thought I'd spotted you making a "rookie mistake" and corrected it... assuming (incorrectly as it turns out) that maybe you didn't know and that it therefore might have a bearing on the rest of what you were trying to say. Go back and check my language and this time assume a charitable intent... and you'll see that I was not trying to tear you down... but just to explain something that I happened to know...

My apologies for that - clearly I messed up, but I can say that I was genuinely trying to correct an error... not trying to score a point in an argument that I wasn't even following.

you still should have interpreted it

In my experience, it's a very bad idea to assume how people should interpret things.

You have misinterpreted me just as much as I think I've misinterpreted you here... that is why I'm trying to explain my thinking to you now to explain why I came to the interpretation that I did.

before making a correction to someone's comment (by default, an aggressive status move), ask yourself whether you will be communicating new information to the person -- something relevant to the discussion that they genuinely didn't know.

I'd like to point out that this site is about learning from mistakes... I'd go so far as to say that correcting errors in people's comments is a good part of the raison detre of this site... (if not of it's sister site OB)

I clearly made a mistake about what you were trying to claim... that led me to think you must have made a mistake about how the logic worked.

I apologise again for my own misinterpretations

However, you have also misinterpreted my own intentions in a very uncharitable fashion.

I may well have completely misunderstood that you were making a different point to that which I had at first thought... but I am not making a mistake when I say that on this site - we are allowed to point out errors, and we aren't going to get very far if pointing them out is considered an act of aggression... rather than an act of help.

So lets talk about aggressive:

This kind of nitpicking is a form of logical rudeness

According to the page you linked-to I was not being logically rude. That page seems to imply that a logically rude person is deliberately trying to derail or win an argument by throwing curveballs or moving the goalposts. As I was not doing either of those things, I think I can say that I was not being logically rude.

I am sorry that your argument became derailed and that what I said may have helped in that... but I really was actually interested in the side-point... not just bringing it up to derail your argument.

If anyone actually has anything interesting to say against this argument, let them say it. Otherwise, let's not bother.

I have to say I was actually quite upset that you were so dismissive of what I was trying to say. I find that quite aggressive.

as well as the principle of sticking-to-the-point-of-the-discussion-and-not-derailing-the-flow-of-discourse-with-an-attempt-to-gain-status-points-by-showing-off-your-knowledge-of-how-to-form-the-logical-negation-of-a-statement

I find this quite an aggressive claim. As you are now aware - I was not trying to be rude, I was not trying to point-score, I was not even disagreeing with you... as I was not actually involved in your argument.

Can you please retract these rather aggressive claims of yours?

in practice humans are far more likely to err on the side of not being curious enough.

You do have a good point there. I shall spend this week trying to be more curious about things that have pressed my "bored now" button.

it can be useful to encourage a bias

It should be noted that "bias" is normative (at least hereabouts) - a "good bias" is not a bias at all. "Heuristic" is usually a good substitute (though not necessarily something you can directly substitute without syntactic modifications).

It should be noted that "bias" is normative (at least hereabouts) - a "good bias" is not a bias at all.

I wouldn't have said that. At least, I wouldn't have said the latter part. Bias is often used to describe "a deviation from epistemologically or sometimes instrumentally rational thinking". Some of those are useful for humans, when they work well with other human limitations.

One of the problems is that in the Internet era, everything would love your attention, so it may actually be of value to treat unexpected curiosity as a warning signal. I find ruthless culling to be necessary, but I have 44 years of being me as a filter dataset; it's not clear to me what advice I'd give someone without reasonable experience being themselves.

Edit: As noted above, I think I'll try increased curiosity for a week and see what happens.

... now I'm curious about if there is anything I'm not curious about. I can't think of anything, all my attempts at trying to come up with somehting I wouldn't want to know, including "what's the 29874th digit of pi?", [TMI icky stuff], "what does mind destroying pain feel like?", volition destroying basilisks... This looks like a bug.

One of mine falls in the area of video games: I've never played them much, and I deliberately cultivate a lack of curiosity about them because I don't believe the enjoyment or value they might give me would outweigh the amount of my precious time they would likely take up if I started. However, I spend more time than perhaps I should reading fanfiction.

This is tangential at best, but there's a way to combine these together: try IF (interactive fiction) games. At their best, they're a literary joy and a well-crafted, fascinating challenge. I recommend All Things Devours as a gateway experience.

That's precisely what I'm trying to avoid with that particular area of anti-curiosity! Do you know how much time I'd spend on something like that if I started?

To go along with this tangent, video games can be seen as worthwhile art, and as much a reflection of humanity, etc. as any work of fiction, painting, or music.

There are PLENTY of bad examples, because it's a fledgling art, and there's far too much... corporate interest in the industry.

I'd recommend the Extra Credits videos on The Escapist. They have much to say on the subject, and can likely say it better than I can.

For example, I have never smoked a cigarette, and it requires no effort on my part to not be curious about what it is like.

I've never smoked, but I've been around people who were, and found the smell repulsive. I can effectively (I think) imagine what it would be like to smoke a cigarette personally, and so I'm not too curious about that. I am, however, truly curious about what it would be like to try LSD or heroin. I'm not going to, because I know that there are risks to that experiment, the same way I wouldn't try to build an atomic reactor in my backyard. I still think I qualify as curious, though, because if there was a way to experience what taking LSD or heroin is like, without having to deal with health risks or addiction, I'd try it in a heartbeat. Some tests are dangerous to run, and sometimes, no matter how much it bugs us, we have to find another way to learn, or be content with our ignorance.

I found it repulsive - I was such a self-righteous anti-smoker - until I, ah, started. Mind you, at the time (late '80s, early '90s) my idea of recreation was going out to see indie rock bands play in pubs. I read an estimate at the time that someone would passively smoke about a pack a night - but I was still somewhat surprised that fresh smoke was not a shock to my system at all.

Bloody cigarettes. Actually more addictive than heroin, and delivered to the brain like crack - so even when your body is over nicotine, your brain craves the hit. Most of this is a rant by me. (I last had a cigarette a couple of months ago, when I was really quite drunk and someone had clove cigarettes, which are even worse for you in every way than regular cigarettes. And it was soooo niiiiice. If I ever make any claims to "rationality", belabour me about the head with this.)

Heroin, I expect it would be like codeine only waaaaay better (like Latvian homebrew vodka to light beer). I did my back a number of years ago and got lots of codeine for it. Fifty million dead junkies aren't wrong - opiates are nice. If it's any comfort, reasonably pure heroin isn't actually that bad for you - the hazard with the street stuff is what it's cut with and the unpredictable dosages.

I have not started smoking yet. However, I have been in tobacco shops, and I find that they smell wonderful. Also, certain kinds of tobacco, smoked, give off a pleasant aroma. Cigarettes are unpleasant but cigarettes are only one class of tobacco product. There are also cigars and pipes, and I think it must be one or both of these which smell so good.

I'm currently intrigued by electronic cigarettes, which deliver nicotine without the other parts of tobacco smoke, and which therefore are presumably much, much less unhealthy, and presumably much, much less "repulsive".

DON'T DO IT! DON'T DO IT! PLEASE! STAY OUT OF THOSE PLACES! TASTY STIMULATORY HAZARD!

E-cigs don't fill your lungs with carcinogenic burning vegetable matter (though I note that even non-burning chewing tobacco can cause cancer), but nicotine may not be such a great chemical in any case (e.g. it's correlated with Alzheimer's, though the evidence is contradictory) and e-cigs don't have that lovely fresh tobacco smell. They really are for nicotine addicts trying not to get cancer.

While I don't necessarily warn against nicotine I don't suggest e-cigs as a delivery mechanism. The rapid to-the-lungs delivery has addictive potential - nothing like a cigarette but still in contrast to a patch. The 'burst' of nicotine is also less useful therapeutically than the more mild but longer lasting effect of a patch or even lozenge.

Yes, as I said: the delivery mechanism (lungs direct to brain) is just like crack, and that's why you (or I, at least) crave the hit months after the addiction is out of your body. This is why they are for people who are already addicts but want to reduce the harm.

"Don't do it" is maybe not the most persuasive argument against doing it, though it is not entirely unpersuasive.

However the superstimuli article you link to reveals that I am already indulging in many superstimuli. I'm not sure there is anything mentioned there that I don't indulge in. Online games - check. World of Warcraft - check. Candy bar - check. Video games (generally) very big check. Feminine beauty products - in the sense that I enjoy looking at a nicely made-up face, check. Playing video games so much that I pass up food - hah, I wish! The video game diet. I could use any help I can get. Cocolate cookies - check. Ice cream - check. Something cute that I bring up instead of my own child - check! I have a cute little dog.

And I already indulge in something not mentioned in the superstimuli article but which is much more relevant to the question of nicotine. And that is caffeine. Coffee, tea, chocolate, caffeinated sodas.

What's one more? :)

What's one more? :)

A particularly bad thing to consider given your evident lack of self control! If you tend to get addicted to things then avoid addictive things with abuse potential.

A particularly bad thing to consider given your evident lack of self control!

You have a funny way of interpreting non-quantitative evidence quantitatively. You would need a quantitative account in order to infer addiction. Take World of Warcraft. I played it for a total of three weeks, just one evening per week, and that was three years ago. So, I played it, I liked it, and then I moved on. Or take my little dog. Surely you don't mean to say that owning a dog demonstrates a lack of self control! I'm sure that dog owners across America would be very interested to hear your reasoning for that.

How about some basic respect for other people that you don't know. I mean, really, is telling a complete stranger that he's an addict supposed to persuade him of something?

Let's recap. Gerard said "don't do it", which is not much of an argument. He pointed out that it's a superstimulus, like ice cream. That's really one of the examples from the article he linked to. So what it amounts to is that I shouldn't try e-cigarettes because they're like ice cream. Another example ie video games. So, I shouldn't try cigarettes because they're like video games. Really? That's the reason? That's the argument? Or: I shouldn't try cigarettes because they're like chocolate chip cookies.

He argued that nicotine is harmful but was honest enough to admit that the evidence is mixed - from which I gather that the claim is not all that strong.

That's really one of the examples from the article he linked to. So what it amounts to is that I shouldn't try e-cigarettes because they're like ice cream. Another example ie video games. So, I shouldn't try cigarettes because they're like video games. Really? That's the reason? That's the argument? Or: I shouldn't try cigarettes because they're like chocolate chip cookies.

He argued that nicotine is harmful but was honest enough to admit that the evidence is mixed - from which I gather that the claim is not all that strong.

Whoa, let's be careful here. It's very important to not mix arguments about nicotine's safety with arguments about smoking or cigarettes' safety.

I agree that nicotine looks fairly safe & quite beneficial; but while I toy with some of the pro-smoking studies, they are nowhere near enough to convince me that smoking is safe given all the contrary studies.

Caffeine, puppies, chocolate - these are not 'gateway drugs' to cannabis, prostitution, or crack cocaine. But if relatively safe & harmless nicotine use (such as patches or e-cigarettes) is a gateway to the unsafe & harmful smoking, then that's an argument worth taking seriously.

But if relatively safe & harmless nicotine use (such as patches or e-cigarettes) is a gateway to the unsafe & harmful smoking, then that's an argument worth taking seriously.

I don't recall seeing this argument until now. On the concept of the "gateway" anything, it's often abused. If some subset of patch users - who had not smoked yet - go on to smoke, then technically I suppose the patch could be called a gateway to smoking. But by the same token, playing video games could be called a gateway to playing them to death. Becoming a priest could be called a gateway to abusing children. And so on. Technically, even visiting a tobacco shop with its wonderful aromas could be called a gateway to smoking, because some will want to try a cigar.

Rather than lean on the easily abused "gateway" argument, attempting a quantitative argument would be more genuinely informative.

You have a funny way of interpreting non-quantitative evidence quantitatively.

Perhaps. You must admit you were heavy on the emphasis with regard to just how much addictive stuff you are already into. I'm glad to see your point was a little different to the one I had inferred! WoW is evil.

He argued that nicotine is harmful but was honest enough to admit that the evidence is mixed - from which I gather that the claim is not all that strong.

I saw that and followed the link. I was curious since I sometimes use nicotine sources myself - for most part it seems to a better drug than caffeine and, with the right delivery mechanism, less addictive. Hearing about the effect on plaque surprised me somewhat.

I am not qualified to write an article on overcoming procrastination because I am not nearly successful enough at avoiding it.

The best written article on procrastination would be even less successful at avoiding procrastination than you are, not being sentient.

You don't have to be an expert at it to be an expert on it!

I hold the opinion that one should be curious about everything but some things only superficially. If you dig deep into something, it changes the experience of it. There's something to be said about being intimately familiar with a subject.

Forcing yourself to be curious about every single thing that crosses your path is a good way to make yourself uncomfortable. I consider discomfort of that kind to be good practice when it comes to confronting the possibility I may be wrong about something.

I guess I have trouble living up to that ideal, but at the same time I have learned to be uncomfortable with being too comfortable. I worry that too much anti-curiosity would lead to too much comfort.

One should also know everything, but clearly that's impossible.

There are some areas of knowledge that are so unlikely to yield anything useful that it's not worth spending any time being curious about them. For humanity in general, psi phenomena now fall into this category. There was a time when they didn't, but it's safe to say that time is over. For me as an individual, string theory falls into that category. I'm glad there are some people investigating it, but the effort required for me to have anything but a superficial understanding of the topic is extremely unlikely to help me achieve anything.

Too much anti-curiosity can easily lead to too much comfort, which is why I suggest periodic uncomfortable examination of areas of anti-curiosity.