Tania Lombrozo

Curiosity is a familiar feeling among people.

But as soon as we scrutinize that feeling, curiosity reveals itself to be a complex emotion indeed. Just ask yourself: Is curiosity a positive feeling or a negative feeling? Is it more like frustration or more like anticipation? Is it a painful reminder of what we don't (yet) know, or a thrilling beacon towards what we might soon discover?

To appreciate that some questions are better than others, it helps to consider a few examples of questions that are bad.

To find them, try playing Twenty Questions with a young child. In trying to guess an animal, a young child might ask: Is it a koala? Is it an elephant? (Not: Is it a mammal? Does it live in Africa?) These are bad questions in the sense that they're unlikely to yield an efficient solution to the problem of discovering the animal one's adversary has chosen.

Early-childhood and elementary school programs reflect a diverse set of commitments about what children ought to learn, and about how they ought to do so.

Some focus on academic preparation and advancement, with extra attention to reading and mathematics. Some emphasize social-emotional development and community values. Others tout their language classes, or their music program, or the opportunities for children to engage in extended projects of their choosing. Some praise structure and discipline; some prize autonomy and play.

A few years ago, my daughter requested that her nightly lullaby be replaced with a bedtime story.

I was happy to comply, and promptly invented stories full of imaginary creatures in elaborate plots intended to convey some important lesson about patience or hard work or being kind to others.

Those of my generation have seen enormous advances in speech recognition systems.

In the early days, the user had to train herself to the system, exaggerating phonemes, speaking in slow staccato bursts. These days, it's the system that trains itself to the user. The results aren't perfect, but they're pretty darn good.