Welcome

A photo of Dr. Mario Livio. Mario Livio is an internationally known astrophysicist, a bestselling author, and a popular lecturer. He is married to Sofie, a microbiologist, and they have three children, Sharon, Oren, and Maya.

Below you can find information about his most recent book,”WHY? What Makes Us Curious”. The book discusses human curiosity and its mechanisms, and it includes interviews with exceptionally curious individuals.

You can read Livio’s blog posts on the Huffington Post, follow him on Twitter at @Mario_Livio, or drop him a line on Facebook at Mario Livio.

WHY?

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Book Cover: WHY?
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WHY? discusses all aspects of human curiosity.

A Few Takeaways from WHY?
Livio identifies four different kinds of curiosity, which activate different parts of the brain, and he explains their significance. For example, the curiosity triggered by novelty, surprise, or puzzling stimuli (“perceptual” curiosity) is different from the curiosity that embodies our love of knowledge (“epistemic” curiosity).

Recent research suggests tantalizing connections between curiosity, memory, and learning, as well as an overlap between the brain circuits of curiosity and reward.

Studies show that the desire to learn produces its own internal reward in the brain, and when curiosity is piqued, people learn more readily and retain information better.

Among the exceptionally curious people profiled in the book from the perspective of their insatiable curiosity are:

Leonardo da Vinci: Unparalleled artist and scientist who left thousands of pages with notes and drawings, but who also may have suffered from ADHD. 
Richard Feynman: The famous physicist (who Livio compares and contrasts with Leonardo), who said: “everything is interesting if you go into it deeply enough.”
Noam Chomsky: The celebrated linguist, who told Livio (as an example of his own curiosity): “I’m curious as to why you’re interested in curiosity.”
Fabiola Gianotti: Renowned particle physicist, Director General of the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), who led one of the teams that discovered the Higgs boson, but who is also a passionate musician.
Brian May: Virtuoso guitarist of the band Queen, accomplished astrophysicist, and vocal activist for animal rights.
Marilyn vos Savant: Who has the world’s highest recorded IQ, and is author of the “Ask Marilyn” column in Parade.
John “Jack” Horner: Prominent paleontologist and science advisor to the Jurassic Park movies, despite never getting a college degree.

There’s a compelling case for the beginning of cooking as a turning point in the rapid evolution of the human brain, and by extension of human curiosity. Conversely, curiosity probably played an important role in the discovery that cooking can soften raw food, make it easier to digest, and improve its taste.

Though nearly impossible to track the precise emergence of language, it appears quite likely that the evolution of the unique human curiosity (the ability to ask why?) and appearance of the distinct human language were strongly correlated.

Socially shared myths, rituals, and symbolism were most likely the first sophisticated responses to the nagging why and how questions and were therefore the fruits of curiosity. The feedback between curiosity and language turned Homo sapiens into a powerful intellect with self-awareness and an inner life.

Whether by religious orthodoxy or oppressive rulers, guardians of the status quo have historically discouraged curiosity to keep their subjects inferior in knowledge. We see the legacy of the myths about the “dangers” of curiosity even in traditional fairy tales like Hansel and Gretel and Sleeping Beauty.

Advance praise for Mario Livio’s “WHY?”

“A colorful, engaging and yet thorough examination of curiosity in its many forms, Why? illustrates how having an inquisitive mind is crucial to creative output in the arts, sciences and business and explains WHY you should encourage curiosity in yourself and your children. Both a fascinating and fun read!”

—Gail Saltz, M.D., Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry, The New York Presbyterian Hospital ; host of “The Power of Different” podcast; author of The Power of Different: The Link Between Disorder and Genius”

“Have you ever wondered why we wonder why?  Mario Livio has, and he takes you on a fascinating quest to understand the origin and mechanisms of our curiosity.  I thoroughly recommend it.”
—Adam Riess, Nobel Prize Winner in Physics, 2011

“Filled with fascinating stories, tidbits, and psychological insights, Why? is a delightful romp through every aspect of human curiosity.  It will surprise you, make you smarter, and put a spring in your step.”
—Steven Strogatz, Schurman Professor of Applied Mathematics, Cornell University, and author of The Joy of X

“Whether in science or art, curiosity is essential to progress—but what is it, exactly? Mixing historical narratives with interviews, and throwing in a dash of neuroscience, Mario Livio explores whether we are inquisitive because curiosity feels good in itself or because finding out something new removes an irritation. It can be both, he concludes, and different types of curiosity serve different purposes. Livio’s book doesn’t pretend to have all the answers, but it might well spur your own curiosity.”
—David Lindley, author of Uncertainty: Einstein, Heisenberg, Bohr, and the Struggle for the Soul of Science, and Where Does the Weirdness Go: Why Quantum is Strange but Not as Strange as you Think

“Leonardo da Vinci has been called ‘the most relentlessly curious man in history.’ In his fascinating book Why?, Mario Livio investigates Leonardo’s curiosity in the broader context of the nature of human curiosity and the mind/brain mechanisms that drive it. This is a spellbinding journey through the latest findings on curiosity in psychology and neuroscience. Anybody who is curious about curiosity will want to read this book.”
—Francesca Fiorani, creator of the digital archive Leonardo da Vinci and his Treatise on Painting, associate dean for the Arts and Humanities, University of Virginia

“It’s impossible to imagine creativity or invention without curiosity, and one could hardly ask for a richer or more engaging exploration of human curiosity than the one provided by Mario Livio in Why?. This book is an intellectual feast for any curious person.”
—Jeffrey M. Schwartz MD, Research Psychiatrist UCLA, author of  (with Sharon Begley) The Mind and the Brain and  (with Rebecca Gladding) You are Not Your Brain

All content © Mario Livio unless noted otherwise.