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Mario Livio on What Makes Us Curious

Evening Program with Book Signing

Evening Lecture/Seminar

Wednesday, July 12, 2017 - 6:45 p.m. to 8:45 p.m. ET
Code: 1M2910
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Mario Livio (Photo: J Coyle Jr./NASA/ESA)

The ability to ask “why?” makes us uniquely human. Curiosity drives basic scientific research, is the engine behind creativity in all disciplines from the arts to technology, and a necessary ingredient in every form of storytelling (literature, film, TV, or even a simple conversation) that delights rather than bores.

In a fascinating and entertaining evening, renowned astrophysicist and author Mario Livio surveys and interprets cutting-edge research in psychology and neuroscience that aims at exploring and understanding the origin and mechanisms of human curiosity.   

He reveals that there are several distinct types of curiosity that activate different brain regions. For example, the curiosity triggered by novelty, surprise, or puzzling stimuli is associated with an unpleasant, aversive condition. On the other hand, the curiosity that embodies our love of knowledge and the drive for its acquisition is expressed as a pleasurable state. He also discusses tantalizing connections among curiosity, memory, and learning, as well as an intricate overlap between the brain circuits of curiosity and reward.

As part of his research into the subject, Livio examined in detail the personalities of two individuals who arguably represent the most curious minds to have ever existed: Leonardo da Vinci and Richard Feynman. He also interviewed 10 exceptionally curious people living today, among them linguist Noam Chomsky and the virtuoso lead guitarist of the rock band Queen, Brian May (who also holds a PhD in astrophysics), and presents fascinating conclusions from these conversations.

Livio’s new book Why? What Makes Us Curious (Simon & Schuster) is available for signing after the program.


S. Dillon Ripley Center
1100 Jefferson Dr SW
Metro: Smithsonian (Mall exit)