Joseph Cramer, M.D.: Curiosity is on Mars; is it on Earth?

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 4 2012 4:34 p.m. MDT

In this image released by NASA on Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2012, a self portrait of NASA's Curiosity rover was taken by its Navigation cameras, located on the now-upright mast. The camera snapped pictures 360-degrees around the rover.

AP Photo/NASA

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Curiosity is on Mars. This rover, the size of a small car, is poised to explore another planet so far away it takes radio waves 14 minutes at the speed of light to communicate with Earth.

If you haven’t seen depiction of the heat shield coming off and hitting the surface or animations of the Sky Crane lowering this package of instruments to the ground flawlessly, you must have been in a different solar system.

As fantastic as this scientific and engineering marvel is, there is a bigger question.

Is there curiosity on Earth?

I’m not talking about the people at NASA or Jet Propulsion Laboratories. Is curiosity in you and me and our kids? Is curiosity in our schools or in our workplaces? Is curiosity in our halls of government or in corporate boardrooms? Is curiosity instilled in our political leaders? Most important, is curiosity in our minds?

Curiosity starts with a non-judgmental openness: “What if?” “Why?” “Why not?” “Is it true?” With these humble beginnings, curiosity should be everywhere.

Curiosity is one of the tenets of being more attentive or more aware. Call it mindfulness. For example, when a negative sensation comes into the mind, instead of instantaneously recognizing it then automatically accepting without inspection, there is an opportunity to ask, “what if this criticism of me or worry is wrong?” “Isn’t that past and not now?” “Isn’t it a mere thought and not real?”

Curiosity of who we are is the planet in need of exploration. The space scientists know more about the dirt of an uninhabited desolate hunk of rock millions of miles away that some of us know about our feelings and thoughts.

Questioning our misconceptions and investigating other potential misgivings doesn’t require a multi-billion-dollar dune buggy, hundreds of smart people and years of construction. It also doesn’t take 14 minutes for a message to be received by us.

It does take time, not the eight and half months of space travel or the seven minutes of terror. It just takes time for us to stop, look and listen with curiosity.

We don’t have multiple cameras; we see the real thing. We can look in the faces of others around us. We can study the rock structures, but also social, cultural, religious and emotional milieu.

Our brains have to deal with millions of sensory inputs every minute. These are not from antennae on a robot far away, but they are from within and around us. Many are retrieved memories and nervous views of the future and the world that we inhabit.

Curiosity helps us interpret these signals. We don’t even have to seek out aliens; we are the carbon life forms we should examine. If there are Martians, they will be microorganisms under rocks. There are earthlings who hide under stones of their own emotional creation; are we curious enough to seek them out?

Negative thoughts are like solar radiation that bombards our planets. On Mars, without a magnetic field or atmosphere of protection, these penetrating rays have destroyed any living thing. Our negative opinions of ourselves have equal destructive powers. Our feelings become sterile. We may exist, but we are not alive.

There is a simple flight plan of A, B, C, D: Action, Belief, Consequence, Dispute. When something happens, there is an action. That action could be something someone said; it could be a memory bubbling up; it may be something you are thinking.

Whatever the action, we employ belief systems like computer programs. It is through our belief about ourselves that creates the conclusion. We believe the worse; that is the consequence. Curiosity disputes the false impressions. What is another possible belief that is true?

If we were more curious, we would ask questions like: What are some ways I can help others?

Curiosity, the rover, is on Mars. Curiosity, the trait, is on Earth. Both, if functioning, will discover whole new worlds.

Joseph Cramer, M.D., is a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, a practicing pediatrician for 30 years, and an adjunct professor of pediatrics at the University of Utah. He can be reached at jgcramermd@yahoo.com.

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