Believe in unicorns
Kathryn Marshall | Tuesday, February 21, 2017
My childhood is defined by an unyielding belief in unicorns. When my fourth-grade class decided to make an encyclopedia of our favorite animals, I found myself protesting the creation of a “Mythological Creatures” section because to my knowledge, unicorns belonged in the “Animals” section. I read every unicorn-containing book I could get my hands on. If people asked (or even if they didn’t), I would explain that unicorns are born gold, and as they grow older shift to silver and then become pure white. Narwhals claimed the title, “Favorite Sea Creature,” because they are the unicorns of the ocean.
But this column is not meant to give readers a life history in unicorns. What I want to communicate is the big picture behind this belief in unicorns. I believed in magic. I believed in something I could not see. And frankly, I still do believe in something invisible. I believe in curiosity, and I believe in sharing that curiosity with others.
A professor made an interesting comment the other day. He said recent negative perceptions of science are the fault of his generation. By failing to communicate science effectively, his generation failed to instill scientific curiosity in the greater public. One could argue whether or not this is true. But the statement speaks to a significant situation faced by our generation today.
The future of science relies on a belief in curiosity. Personally, I found “magic” again when I discovered the questions underlying ecology and evolution. These questions pulled my focus away from the internal and towards the external in a way that constantly enriches my everyday life. I look outside and see trophic levels. I hear the languages of birds and mammals alike. I ask about the origin stories of certain environments. In my own odd little way, I found magic through curiosity.
But this isn’t enough. Looking past myself to the outer world also shows me the number of people who have lost the ability to be curious. I’m not saying everyone has to fall in love with ecology and evolution to be happy, not at all. But I challenge our generation to begin asking questions again. In fact, it might help with the whole “finding your purpose in life” question hanging over our heads. I believe curiosity is one of the key roots of purpose. If you ask a question, the next step is to answer it. And before you know it, you ask the question you are passionate about and your life’s purpose is to answer it.
The previous two sentences paint “purpose” in a simple light. But if evolution has taught me anything, it’s that even the simplest idea has a complex underwriting. And curiosity is not simple. But then again, neither is magic.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.