Curiosity is the gift that keeps on giving

A man wearing a suit and tie
Professor Martin Hendry, FRSE Programme Convenor of the RSE Public Engagement Advisory Group

On behalf of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, it is my great pleasure to present Curious: our third annual programme of events, designed to challenge and inspire, and to make us think more deeply about the “big ideas” that shape our lives.

As an astronomer, curiosity lies at the heart of everything I do – even when the daily reality is often more about managing budgets and debugging programs than contemplating the mysteries of the cosmos! This deep-seated curiosity has led us to a profound understanding of how the universe works, albeit one with many puzzles and mysteries still remaining. Moreover, in fields like astronomy, curiosity-driven research has also powered an array of technological spin-offs that underpin many aspects of modern life, exemplars of the RSE’s core mission to promote “knowledge made useful”. At least for me, however, such impressive advances in our knowledge and its application have never compromised the exhilarating sense of wonder that drew me to astronomy in the first place, and the thrill of exploring new ideas continues to bring its own rewards.

In a similar vein, I feel sure that our Curious programme will offer something for everyone: from applications of cutting-edge technology to the philosophy of abstract ideas; from predicting the future to unlocking the past. The programme will run from 09-27 August and will feature panel discussions, lectures, premieres and walking tours, as well as “Tea and Talk” events inspired by the coffee house discussions of the Scottish Enlightenment, where people would gather to debate issues of the day.

Curious will offer audiences daily opportunities to engage with world-leading experts, drawn from across the Fellowship of the RSE and beyond, and will focus on four broad and overlapping themes: our planet, health and wellbeing, innovation and invention, and (perhaps inevitably) Covid-19.

For more than a year, the pandemic has cast a dark shadow over the world: beyond the immediate and tragic loss of life and livelihood witnessed in so many countries, Covid-19 has also severely narrowed our horizons – in terms of travel, work, leisure, sharing time with friends and family, experiencing cultural and sporting events. And yet, amidst all of these challenges, curiosity and creativity have been there as beacons to light our way: from the remarkable scientific innovations of the vaccine programme to the inspiring power of the music, literature and art that has offered us mental and spiritual relief through difficult times.

As we begin cautiously to emerge from the pandemic’s shadow, perhaps we are all reflecting on new lockdown experiences – skills learned, hobbies acquired, fresh ideas and passions explored – that we now carry with us. As Dr Johnson said, “Curiosity is, in great and generous minds, the first passion and the last”. We hope that our Curious programme will help to fire your passions and (re-)widen your horizons as, together, we tackle some of the most thought-provoking topics and questions of our time!

Events will take place every day during the three-week run. You can view the full line-up and book your place at www.rse-curious.com