Rekindle your curiosity (by Elisabeth Stephan)


When I was a just a little girl, my father let me visit our darkroom with him for the first time. It was really our bathroom, just with covered windows. A bathtub served as a wet area and an extra table for the enlarger. He asked me to place my hand on a piece of white paper and then turned on a light for a brief moment.  

As he submersed this paper into the solution of the first tray, something unexpected and fascinating started to happen: the paper turned black and a white hand appeared…my hand! Although, in retrospect, I was not then able to recognize this image as a definitive, visual cognitive to the very useful thing at the end of my arm, the identifiable silhouette was familiar enough to immediately impress me.  

The creation of this image was an utterly new concept for my seven-year-old mind. My father tried to explain to me how the process worked, but it was not until I was able to try out the darkroom for myself that I began to comprehend the details of this little miracle.  

I will always remember that day. The photogram of my hand was an astounding introduction to a remarkable way of seeing and recording the visual world.

Neuroscientific aspects

The human brain loves novelty. The unfamiliar and unexpected intrigues and beguiles. Learning something new confronts us to think about our preconceived notions and allows a new way of looking at the world. For children, it’s a natural state. As adults, we tend to find a routine and sometimes get stuck in a rut.

Dr. Martha Burns has researched extensively the neuroscientific aspects of learning and what help us retain information. To put it bluntly, we get a buzz out of learning. To hold on to information a chemical in the brain, dopamine, needs to be released. This powerful chemical can be triggered by other means, too. A new relationship, the next level in a game, or cocaine. The latter two are artificial triggers and lead to serious consequences.

A healthy way to feel good

There is a healthier way to feel good. Dr. Burns suggests, learning about new things is an adventure and in the process dopamine levels in the brain increase, allowing us to retain this new information. She likes to call this chemical the “save button” in the brain.

How can we increase this release of dopamine? It’s quite simple: novelty. Make information new and exciting. Find unfamiliar ways to tell old stories and discover new perspectives of seeing the world.

Bombarding the brain with new experiences, neuroscientists have found, forces our minds to look at the world through a new lens. According to neuroscientist Gregory Berns, our grey matter is a “lazy piece of meat” and it needs to be forced to see differently. We can force our brains out of predictable perceptions by finding novel approaches to help the it perceive differently.

Thirst for knowledge can become the impulse to energize and explore a new dimension of our lives. Experience, engage, endeavor!

Written by Elisabeth Stephan
XuendR’s Art Director
… and a keen discoverer of self-perception