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The Most Curious Animal
by [?]

Curiosity is the first of the sins. On the day on which Eve gave way to her curiosity, man broke off his communion with the angels and allied himself with the beasts. To-day we usually applaud curiosity; we think of it as the alternative to stagnation. The tradition of mankind, however, is against us. The fables never pretend that curiosity is anything but an evil. Literature is full of tales of forbidden rooms that cannot be peeped into without disaster. Fatima in Bluebeard escapes punishment, but her escape is narrow enough to leave her a warning to the nursery. A version of the Pandora legend imputes the state of mankind to the curiosity of one disastrous fool who raised the lid of the sacred box, with the result that the blessings intended for our race escaped and flew away. We have cursed the inquisitive person through the centuries. We have instinctively hated him to the point of persecution. The curious among mankind have gone about their business at peril of their lives. It is probable that Athens was a city as much given to curiosity as any city has ever been, and yet the Athenians put Socrates to death on account of his curiosity. He was accused of speculating about the heavens above and inquiring into the earth beneath as well as of corrupting the youth and making the worse appear the better reason. History may be read as the story of the magnificent rearguard action fought during several thousand years by dogma against curiosity. Dogma is always in the majority and is therefore detestable, but it is also always beaten and is therefore admirable. It rallies its forces afresh on some new field in every generation. It fights with its back to the sunrise under a banner of darkness, but even when we abominate it most we cannot but marvel at its endurance. The odd thing is that man clings to dogma from a sense of safety. He can hardly help feeling that he was never so safe as he is in the present in possession of this little patch his fathers have bequeathed to him. He felt quite safe without printed books, without chloroform, without flying machines. He mocked at Icarus as the last word in human folly. We say nowadays “as safe as the Bank of England,” but he felt safer without the Bank of England. We are told that when the Bank was founded in 1694 its institution was warmly opposed by all the dogmatic believers in things as they were. But it is against curiosity about knowledge that men have fought most stubbornly. Galileo was forbidden to be curious about the moon. One of the most difficult things to establish is our right to be curious about facts. The dogmatists offer to provide us with all the facts a reasonable man can desire. If we persist in believing that there is a world of facts yet undiscovered and that it is our duty to set out in quest of it, in the eyes of the dogmatists we are scorned as heretics and charlatans. Even at the present day, when the orthodoxies sit on shaky thrones, dogma still opposes itself to curiosity at many points. A great deal of the popular dislike of psychical research is due to hatred of curiosity in a new direction. People who admit the existence of a world of the dead commonly feel that none the less it ought to be taboo to the too-curious intellect of man. They feel there is something uncanny about spirits that makes it unsafe to approach them with an inquisitive mind. I am not concerned either to attack or defend Spiritualism. I merely suggest that a rational attack on Spiritualism must be based on the insufficiency of the evidence put forward in its behalf, not on the ground that the curiosity which goes in search of such evidence is in itself wicked.