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Author Archive: "Ian Leslie"

Empathic Curiosity

Today, we wonder anxiously if digital media is changing our brains. But if there's any time in history when our mental operations changed fundamentally, it was 18th century Europe, and Britain in particular. During this period, a cognitive revolution took place, powered by an extraordinary new technology: the printing press. Gutenberg's contraption was a curiosity machine. It facilitated the rapid spread and exchange of ideas, corroding old certainties and igniting powerful new ideas. Sir Francis Bacon called the printing press one of three inventions, along with firearms and the compass, that "changed the whole face and state of the world."

Until this point in history, intellectual curiosity — what psychologists call "epistemic curiosity"— had been regarded with deep suspicion by the authorities. The Catholic Church declared it a sin, a dangerous diversion from the contemplation of God's greatness. But now, as the Reformation loosened the grip of Catholic dogma and literacy rates rose, the British embarked on a mass intellectual adventure. According to historian Roy Porter, between 1660 and 1800 more than 300,000 separate book and pamphlet titles were published in England, amounting to something like 200 million copies. ...

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