Why?
Astrophysicist and author Mario Livio investigates perhaps the most human of all our characteristics—curiosity—as he explores our innate desire to know why.Experiments demonstrate that people are more distracted when they overhear a phone conversation—where they can know only one side of the dialogue—than when they overhear two people talking and know both sides. Why does half a conversation make us more curious than a whole conversation?In the ever-fascinating Why? Mario Livio interviewed scientists in several fields to explore the nature of curiosity. He examined the lives of two of history’s most curious geniuses, Leonardo da Vinci and Richard Feynman. He also talked to people with boundless curiosity: a superstar rock guitarist who is also an astrophysicist; an astronaut with degrees in computer science, biology, literature, and medicine. What drives these people to be curious about so many subjects? Curiosity is at the heart of mystery and suspense novels. It is essential to other forms of art, from painting to sculpture to music. It is the principal driver of basic scientific research. Even so, there is still no definitive scientific consensus about why we humans are so curious, or about the mechanisms in our brain that are responsible for curiosity. Mario Livio—an astrophysicist who has written about mathematics, biology, and now psychology and neuroscience—explores this irresistible subject in a lucid, entertaining way that will captivate anyone who is curious about curiosity.

Why? Details

TitleWhy?
Author
FormatHardcover
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseJul 11th, 2017
PublisherSimon Schuster
ISBN1476792097
ISBN-139781476792095
Number of pages272 pages
Rating
GenreScience, Nonfiction, Psychology, Philosophy

Why? Review

  • Kathleen
    April 17, 2017
    My 3-star rating of this book includes a caveat that if I had a stronger background in science, it could very well be a 4 or 5 star book. Author Mario Luvio is an internationally known astrophysicist, which did not intimidate me but perhaps it should have a little bit. (I blame you, Neil Degrasse Tyson! You and your charming ability to make me feel smart about stuff.)I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley and the publisher, Simon & Schuster, to read and review honestly. I con My 3-star rating of this book includes a caveat that if I had a stronger background in science, it could very well be a 4 or 5 star book. Author Mario Luvio is an internationally known astrophysicist, which did not intimidate me but perhaps it should have a little bit. (I blame you, Neil Degrasse Tyson! You and your charming ability to make me feel smart about stuff.)I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley and the publisher, Simon & Schuster, to read and review honestly. I consider myself a curious person, and I had a particular interest in the chapters on curiosity and neuroscience & psychology. I'm particularly fascinated with people and looked forward to these chapters but found myself on overload when reading them. The experiments he cites are fascinating, but my head began to spin as he cites results from different studies, compared to other studies, compared to different age groups as subjects. Perhaps if I revisit the text later with a clear head and maybe a dry-erase board, it will penetrate a little better. In my reading, I ended up on information overload - a predicament he refers to btw, when speaking of what makes people curious & potential barriers to curiosity. To oversimplify the research He presents, if something is too simple or too complicated, the subject will likely lose interest. Some of the chapters were definitely too technical for me in a way I'm not accustomed to examining evidence. In some chapters I remained curious and sought out end notes to enhance my understanding. In other chapters, I continued reading and accepted the fact that I'm a bit over my head in this subject. Then I put the book down and read a humorous comic/graphic novel to reset my brain for the next few chapters. I don't want to give the impression that you need to be a scientist to follow this book, because most of it is very accessible and he gives a heads- up to readers when things begin to become necessarily technical. I enjoyed the book and would recommend it. I just happened to feel that I probably didn't make the right decision to satisfy my science requirements at university with classes that were enormous lecture classes graded on a curve taken by a bunch of other liberal arts students unsure if we could pass otherwise. Maybe I should have taken something a little more challenging.
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  • Claudia
    April 1, 2017
    “The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existence. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery each day.” Einstein said it* and Mario Livio does a brilliant job here by showing how curiosity shaped who we are today.This is one of the best scientific books I read so far and my 5th by Mr. Livio. As always “The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existence. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery each day.” Einstein said it* and Mario Livio does a brilliant job here by showing how curiosity shaped who we are today.This is one of the best scientific books I read so far and my 5th by Mr. Livio. As always, he delivers an astounding great read.Beginning with Leonardo da Vinci, Richard Feynman, continuing with Freeman Dyson, Story Musgrave and Brian May (for those who do not know, besides being a brilliant musician he is an astrophysicist as well), just to name a few, the author starts his journey by searching for an answer to the question: what makes us curious?Based on psychologist Daniel Berlyne’s classification of curiosity**, the author made an astounding research (30% of this book represents notes and bibliography) and conducted a series of interviews to find more on the subject. From childhood to adulthood, most of us are curious by nature, but only few people are really driven by it. You’ll be amazed by the lives of these people and their accomplishments. For example, astronaut Story Musgrave has various degrees in mathematics and statistics, analysis and computer programming, chemistry, medicine, physiology, biophysics and literature. Asked why did he choose to study all these fields, he responded that “one thing led to another”.The author also touches the topic on how curiosity leads to knowledge and knowledge is ‘dangerous’. Starting from the proverb “curiosity killed the cat”, he gives a lot of examples in literature: Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit, Baba Yaga from Slavic folklore which eats nosy children, children stories like Sleeping Beauty and Hansel and Gretel, advancing further in real life with examples on how totalitarian regimes prohibited access to information and even destroyed books and works of art (the Nazi, Talibans, etc). The book not only abounds in scientific details but has also a lot of humorous facts. Mario Livio writes with lightness, fluent, in a very accessible way. He does an amazing job on popularizing science through his books. Is God a Mathematician? , The Equation That Couldn't Be Solved: How Mathematical Genius Discovered the Language of Symmetry and The Golden Ratio: The Story of Phi, the World's Most Astonishing Number are among my favorites.He also worked on The Hubble Cantata project, a concert which brings together classic music, virtual reality on the background of Hubble’s images from space. I would love to have the chance of seeing it. Here is a glimpse on it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2PVGb...That being said, I really do hope I succeeded in raising your curiosity on it ;) Read it, you won’t be disappointed. >Many thanks to Simon & Schuster for approving my request via NetGalley<---* "Old Man's Advice to Youth: 'Never Lose a Holy Curiosity.'" LIFE Magazine (2 May 1955) p. 64**“Berlyne located curiosity along two dimensions, making a four-fold classification. While his work, and the field more generally, has moved on, we liked the simplicity of his four-fold model, and it is an open question whether subsequent models were improvements or merely changes. On one axis lies Epistemic curiosity, which is the desire for information and knowledge, and Perceptual curiosity, which describes one’s attention to novel objects in their immediate environment. The other axis runs from Specific curiosity, which is the desire for a particular piece of knowledge such as the final piece of a puzzle, to Diversive curiosity, which is less directed and would describe seeking stimulation to escape boredom or when ready to grow.”(THE POWER OF CURIOSITY: HOW LINKING INQUISITIVENESS TO INNOVATION COULD HELP TO ADDRESS OUR ENERGY CHALLENGES. RSA SOCIAL BRAIN CENTRE, JUNE 2012; p. 12)
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  • L.P. Logan
    April 24, 2017
    What a load of horse crap. This book is a spew of words attempting to explain why we are individually creative, but instead of doing that it focuses on Leonardo Divinci -- who was awesome, don't get me wrong -- whoso happens to be someone that each one of us will never be. Then it throws in a whole bunch of psychology mumbo-jumbo, tops it off with some random inventorish people, and places it before the reader as if that is someway going to explain why you, me, and the average Joe is curious. Wh What a load of horse crap. This book is a spew of words attempting to explain why we are individually creative, but instead of doing that it focuses on Leonardo Divinci -- who was awesome, don't get me wrong -- whoso happens to be someone that each one of us will never be. Then it throws in a whole bunch of psychology mumbo-jumbo, tops it off with some random inventorish people, and places it before the reader as if that is someway going to explain why you, me, and the average Joe is curious. What would have been simpler is to simply say: You are unique, and you are you. That is why you are curious about the things you're curious about.Easy. Nuff Said. And does this mean I now get a publishing contract as well?
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  • Eric Adriaans
    July 21, 2017
    I think Livio tried to turn a decent article into a full-length book on this one. The effort comes across as a bit more than self-indulgent and self-congratulatory. No, scientists are not the only people who are curious (despite a tone which eagerly leans that way). No, artists and poets don't all limit themselves to superficial mystical appreciation of beauty and nature. No, it isn't really proven that only humans can question "why". It could have been a far-ranging book with lots to say instea I think Livio tried to turn a decent article into a full-length book on this one. The effort comes across as a bit more than self-indulgent and self-congratulatory. No, scientists are not the only people who are curious (despite a tone which eagerly leans that way). No, artists and poets don't all limit themselves to superficial mystical appreciation of beauty and nature. No, it isn't really proven that only humans can question "why". It could have been a far-ranging book with lots to say instead of a demonstration of academic cronyism. Yawn.
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  • Ali Albaijan
    July 24, 2017
    This book may provide insights of how curiosity control some people, what justifies such behavior and some sort of examples illustrate curiosity through history. Does curiosity satisfy internal needs of some people? What kind of curiosity do people go through? Is there an end to being curious?
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  • Meghan
    July 11, 2017
    So I found this book about curiosity to be dull, which seems to me antithetical to a book on curiosity (also, I keep typing curiousity because the English language and I are having issues today). Even as the book traveled between psychology, neuroscience, and history, all subjects I have levels of curiosity about, I just did not care. Maybe it was the writing style, which is neither dry and scientific nor really pop-science chummy, but somewhere in between (I really didn't need to know, for inst So I found this book about curiosity to be dull, which seems to me antithetical to a book on curiosity (also, I keep typing curiousity because the English language and I are having issues today). Even as the book traveled between psychology, neuroscience, and history, all subjects I have levels of curiosity about, I just did not care. Maybe it was the writing style, which is neither dry and scientific nor really pop-science chummy, but somewhere in between (I really didn't need to know, for instance, that the author skyped with certain interviewees in the book)? Maybe it was the lack of narrative, since I'm a sucker for narrative and reading non-fiction books that don't have a story-line is often difficult for me? Maybe there was too much talking about Feynman in the book, who while brilliant, always makes me feel very uncomfortable. Maybe I'm just plain incurious about curiosity? I can't say. But the book left me not wanting more, so I can't say that, in the realms of curiosity, it was a success.Also, if anyone can explain to me why we don't spell it curiousity, it would be greatly appreciated.Addendum: Levi is a physicist. Every other book I've reviewed by a physicist, said physicist has contacted me to point out flaws and/or disagree with my review. So I have that to look forward to, I suppose :pWhy? by Mario Levi went on sale July 11, 2017.I received a copy free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
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  • Melissa
    May 24, 2017
    This book was a page-turner! The author included quality research along with fascinating information about what we 'think' we understand about curiosity and, more importantly, the big questions that remain unanswered in this topic. He retained an unbiased perspective as he delivered the expansive and interesting theories about what curiosity is and why we have it. The author succeeded at delivering complex information with clarity by 1. avoiding jargon and 2. retaining an unassuming position in This book was a page-turner! The author included quality research along with fascinating information about what we 'think' we understand about curiosity and, more importantly, the big questions that remain unanswered in this topic. He retained an unbiased perspective as he delivered the expansive and interesting theories about what curiosity is and why we have it. The author succeeded at delivering complex information with clarity by 1. avoiding jargon and 2. retaining an unassuming position in what his readers may or may not already know about the topic. Potential weaknesses of the various experiments and research he cites were clearly pointed out by him as well, which is essential when it comes to multi-faceted subjects like this.Comprehensive with his research, he included an array of past experiments/studies that exhibited pivotal steps toward our attempts at understanding curiosity along with the most up-to-date findings that are currently being discovered and worked on as our understanding of curiosity develops.Perhaps this was simply my personal experience and not intended by the author, but as he wrote about curiosity and our minds, I found myself so enthralled in the subject that by the time I was around half way through the book, I suddenly realized he was not just relaying the information to me via his writing and my reading, but by actually allowing me to experience the array of curious sensations and processes he was discussing. Well played.>Many thanks to Simon & Schuster for approving my request via NetGalley<
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  • Vadim
    May 24, 2017
    My girlfriend is so curious. One time she put some poison into my food, just to see what would happen. I love you, babe, and I hope can understand you better after I read this book!
  • Saretta
    March 1, 2017
    Recensione Review La curiosità ci spinge ad approfondire ciò che non conosciamo, e a rimanere attenti durante una lettura avvincente, e l'autore, doppiamente curioso, si interroga su questa caratteristica.I primi capitoli sono dedicati a due personaggi curiosi e decisamente brillanti, il primo un artista con tendenza alla scienza, Leonardo Da Vinci, il secondo un fisico con l'interesse per l'arte, Richard Feynman.Nei capitoli successivi si esplora il concetto di curiosità, anche con l'aiuto dell Recensione Review La curiosità ci spinge ad approfondire ciò che non conosciamo, e a rimanere attenti durante una lettura avvincente, e l'autore, doppiamente curioso, si interroga su questa caratteristica.I primi capitoli sono dedicati a due personaggi curiosi e decisamente brillanti, il primo un artista con tendenza alla scienza, Leonardo Da Vinci, il secondo un fisico con l'interesse per l'arte, Richard Feynman.Nei capitoli successivi si esplora il concetto di curiosità, anche con l'aiuto delle neuroscienze e di test che vanno a valutarne diversi aspetti.Nel complesso un testo che affronta temi interessanti con uno stile piuttosto altalenante: non mi hanno particolarmente coinvolto alcune delle interviste, mentre altri capitoli hanno catturato la mia attenzione.Ringrazio l’editore per avermi fornito la copia necessaria per scrivere questa recensione.
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  • Montcrieff
    July 21, 2017
    NYT Interview with Mario LivioTell Us 5 Things About Your Book: ‘Why,’ About the Science of CuriosityBy John WilliamsPersuade someone to read “Why” in less than 50 words.Curiosity inspires the most exciting things in our lives, from conversation to reading books to seeing films. It drives all scientific research, and education. Other species are curious, but they don’t have the ability to ask why. This is uniquely human. I think everybody should be curious about curiosity.The physicist Richard F NYT Interview with Mario LivioTell Us 5 Things About Your Book: ‘Why,’ About the Science of CuriosityBy John WilliamsPersuade someone to read “Why” in less than 50 words.Curiosity inspires the most exciting things in our lives, from conversation to reading books to seeing films. It drives all scientific research, and education. Other species are curious, but they don’t have the ability to ask why. This is uniquely human. I think everybody should be curious about curiosity.The physicist Richard Feynman once wrote of the universe’s vastness: “It does not do harm to the mystery to know a little about it. For far more marvelous is the truth than any artists of the past imagined!” In his new book, “Why? What Makes Us Curious,” the astrophysicist and best-selling author Mario Livio writes about Feynman and other historical figures who have exhibited great and varied interest in the world around them. He also investigates the different shapes curiosity can take, how it expresses itself and the regions of the brain in which it appears to reside. Below, Livio talks about the latest research about the subject, how the book changed as he wrote it, Albert Einstein and Leonardo da Vinci, and more.When did you first get the idea to write this book?I was always a very curious person, and I wondered about the mechanisms of curiosity for a long time. But I wasn’t sure whether I could write a book about this, because psychology and neuroscience are not my fields of expertise. Then about five years ago, I was invited to give a TedxMidAtlantic talk, and they allowed me to choose the topic. So I thought, this is an opportunity. Let me spend maybe six months or so exploring the topic of curiosity, which will be enough for my talk, and this will give me an idea of whether I’m able to get into the topic deeper and write a book. I then spent the next four years finding out what research results were being produced on both the psychology and neuroscience sides, interviewing many scientists working in the field, visiting labs.What’s the most surprising thing you learned while writing it?I was surprised to discover that somehow, in spite of the fact that curiosity is driving almost everything we do, the number of researchers that focus exclusively on the study of it is relatively small. I would have thought that lots of psychologists and neuroscientists would be interested in curiosity. There definitely are people who are studying it, but I was surprised at the total number.The other thing that became a very important part of the book: I realized that curiosity really represents a whole family of both states and mechanisms. For example, the curiosity we feel when we see something that is surprising or puzzling or ambiguous, that doesn’t agree exactly with our previous knowledge or presumed knowledge, is not the same as the curiosity we feel as the love of knowledge — what drives research in science, for example. The first one is associated with a state of mind that is aversive. It’s an unpleasant feeling, which we try to get rid of. It even activates regions of the brain that are associated with conflict, or hunger and thirst. The second type, which represents this lust for knowledge, is associated with a pleasurable state, and in our brain activates regions that anticipate rewards, like when you finally found tickets to “Hamilton” and you’re sitting in the theater expecting the curtain to go up. If we had known what we know now, we might not have used the same word to describe both feelings.In what way is the book you wrote different from the book you set out to write?It’s quite different. I thought I would write only about the research on the nature of curiosity. What are the mechanisms in the brain? What psychological states does it represent? But as I was writing, I kept thinking about all these extraordinarily curious individuals, both from the past and some who live today, who are fascinating, and it occurred to me that I could not write about curiosity without somehow trying to get into the minds of these people.So I ended up doing, for example, an entire chapter on da Vinci, who is perhaps the most curious person to ever live, and another on Richard Feynman. But I also interviewed nine people who are alive today, people like Brian May, the lead guitarist for Queen who also has a Ph.D. in astrophysics. Or Fabiola Gianotti, who helped discover the Higgs boson and is also a musician, an accomplished pianist. I’m sure there are some readers, perhaps, who are really not that interested in the precise mechanisms in the brain, but they may still be intrigued by these people.Who is a creative person (not a writer) who has influenced you and your work?I’m not sure about influence, but certainly inspiration. I’m primarily trained as a physicist, and I also did a degree in mathematics. So my icon clearly is Albert Einstein. Not even for everything he did, though that is very inspiring. When you work in experimental physics, or observational astronomy, you can make discoveries that are extraordinarily important but serendipitous. Usually you have to be somewhat prepared to make those discoveries. But like Louis Pasteur once said, luck helps the well prepared. In theoretical physics, that cannot be. Usually progress there is fairly incremental. Everyone adds another piece to the puzzle. But every now and again, you have someone, like Einstein, who comes up with something that is not in the air at all. And that is how Einstein’s general relativity is. To this very day, I cannot understand how he thought of that. So that’s the kind of thing that I’m in awe in front of.https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/16/bo...
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  • Jeremy
    April 8, 2017
    Note: I received this book as an advanced reading copy from NetGalley.I really enjoyed the book. The author is great at explaining research without it being too dry, and I love that he is a physicist, which means I can relate to a lot of things he says. Overall, the book was well written and flows nicely. The interviews and character profiles were quite interesting, and made for a nice change of pace since there was a mix of individuals I learned a lot more about curiosity than I had known befor Note: I received this book as an advanced reading copy from NetGalley.I really enjoyed the book. The author is great at explaining research without it being too dry, and I love that he is a physicist, which means I can relate to a lot of things he says. Overall, the book was well written and flows nicely. The interviews and character profiles were quite interesting, and made for a nice change of pace since there was a mix of individuals I learned a lot more about curiosity than I had known before. If the question "Why?" is something that interests you, you should read this book.
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  • Andrienne
    April 15, 2017
    Lots to ponder. Plenty of facts.
  • Brooke
    April 5, 2017
    A brief exploration of the ties between curiosity and genius. Livio also looks at the psychology behind curiosity, but there seem to be no definitive answers, so I felt that the section detracted a bit from the more interesting interviews with inordinately curious people.
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  • Joe
    July 7, 2017
    “An Inquisitive Physicist Delves into the Psychology and Neuroscience of Human Curiosity” Livio has a way of indulging his readers, inviting them to draw parallels between their own inquisitive tendencies and those of history’s geniuses. Who wouldn’t want to compare themselves to Leonardo da Vinci and Richard Feynman, whom Livio believes possessed the most curious minds that ever existed? Go to my blog: Have Words-Will Write 'Emand then to Science magazine.--Joe
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  • a hooded figure from your friendly neighbourhood dog park
    July 29, 2017
    What Makes Us Curious... not this book, apparently. I'm just left craving a good da Vinci bio.
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