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Curiosity is often cited as an important factor in some good things (like creativity, intelligence, or whatever). It is also, at times, cited as a negative factor in life ("curiosity killed the cat").

This page is intended to list my recent insight into a practical manisfestation of curiosity. Feel free to add, correct, or whatever.

And maybe I'm thinking specifically of scientific curiosity?

I recently found a web site that talked about the precession of a top (after seeing a Slashdot thread on an experiment to check for the existence of frame dragging which is predicted by Einstein't theory of relativity.

Background: As I'm looking at the precession demo at the bottom of the cited web page, I'm wondering:

  1. who and why did they call that effect "precession"
  2. how did someone decide that effect was separate or different from the effect of a top balancing on its end due to rotation

I can't answer the first (at least offhand), but a way of looking at the second (and recognizing that I didn't do real well in physics) would be to do the mathematics / physics that is (was) known about the behavior of a top, and see if that math / physics also predicts the motion labeled precession. If it does, all is peachy. If not, there is (or was at the time someone decided to investigate that behavior) something else worthy of investigation. This is the practical manifestation of curiosity, and notice that it is not an idle thing — the pioneers who wanted to follow-up their curiosity on that motion had a fairly long row to hoe.

As an aside, perhaps a tool to fostering scientific development (and scientific curiosity) would be some kind of database (and inquiry method) that would allow someone to inquire about any particular behavior they observed, and get back information about whether the observed behavior is known and explained by "validated" scientific theory or not.

For example, a two-year old (!!??) might see a rotating top standing on its end and ask why does it do that. An enquiry into the "database" might (at various levels) say that such behavior is understood, and at deeper and deeper levels go into what explains the behavior and eventually the equations and mathematics that explain the behavior, and an idealized top that demonstrates that behavior.

The two-year old (!!??) might then notice that the model top strictly rotates straight up around its vertical access and that the real top he is looking at "wobbles" (precesses), so he makes a second query (why does it wobble). If the database provides a suitable response (this is a known effect, explained by (cited) math and physics, with a model that incorporates the wobbling effect, the child can say interesting, that is explained.

If, on the other hand, either there is no suitable response (there is no known physics / math to explain this behavior), or the wobble that the two year old sees in the real top does not match what he sees in the modelled (sp?) top behavior, there is (may be) something to be scientifically curious about.

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  • () RandyKramer - 20 Apr 2004
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Topic revision: r1 - 2004-04-20 - RandyKramer
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