I sent New Scientist magazine this letter, which they published in their June 6, 2012 issue. Curiously (and probably rushing stupidly when I typed the letter), I managed to confound Herr Schrodinger of cat fame with Herr Heisenberg, he of the uncertainty:
Your review of Philip Ball’s book Curiosity (19 May, p 50) ends: “Yet for all its erudition, his book does not quite succeed in capturing the difference between Nobel and Ig Nobel prizewinning curiosity.”
Nobel prizes recognise (in theory and usually in fact) curiosity that led to extremely good things. Ig Nobel prizes recognise curiosity that made people laugh, then think – regardless of whether the outcome was good or bad, valuable or worthless.
Curiosity sometimes leads to Nobel prizes. Sometimes it kills cats. Sometimes it does both. And thanks to (Nobel laureate) Werner Heisenberg’s curiosity, we suspect it may do both and neither.
The review seems to imply that curiosity that leads to good outcomes is good. The best tool for identifying that kind of curiosity, I am told, is hindsight.
—Marc Abrahams, Cambridge, Massachusetts, founder of the Ig Nobel Prize ceremony