Go ahead, ASk

Tags: Knowledge

Questions take us away from our comfort zone. They also help us to move forward

We all have a questioning mind. It is the questioning mind that makes us different from other species. The quality of questioning minds, however, vary. Some questions reflect our ability of reasoning, understanding and learning. Some questions reflect our hollowness. A convergent question has specific answer. A divergent question has many answers. Divergent questions are open-ended. Convergent questions are close-ended. Close-ended questions are ‘saturated’. Open-ended questions are ‘unsaturated’. Some questions have both ‘yes’ and ‘no’ answer. A question is considered good if it has many answers. Some questions have no answer.

As Milan Kundera says, “it is questions with no answers that set the limit of human possibilities, describe the boundaries of human existence.” Ques-tions can be ‘deeply satisfying’, but ‘deeply troubling’ too. One of the ways of growing up and moving forward is to step outside our comfort zone. Questions take us away from our comfort zone. Questions help us to move forward. A questioning mind stops when true happiness dawns, says Sri Sri Ravishankar. It is good that one never achieves true happiness.

Should your teacher, or your leader must have all the answers? They need not, thinks Tony Wagner, author of The Global Achievement Gap: Why even our best schools don’t teach the new survival skills our children need.

Some of the advises he puts forward include: “don’t take things at face value; don’t go in with preconceived ideas that you’re trying to prove.” To ask questions one needs to apply reasoning and logic to unfamiliar ideas and situations. A questioning mind needs to have ‘critical thinking skills’. Daniel Gilbert says questions are not the problems. He was particularly talking about questions in his area — psychology. Gilbert thinks the problem is “we have a tendency toward irrational exuberance”. He thinks we have not yet asked the questions that are going to be the ‘most delicious’ in the coming years. A questioning mind asks small and big questions.

The John Templeton Foundation has been asking big questions from time to time, like, does the Universe have a purpose? Does evolution explain human nature? Does moral action depends upon reasoning? Does science make belief in god obsolete? Does contemporary neuroscience support or challenge the reality of free will? Can you learn to control your mind? Does quantum physics make it easier to believe in God? Do we have aouls? Hayley Birch, Colin Stuart and MunKeatLooi have asked questions they think are important, such as: how did life begin? Are we alone in the universe? What makes us human? Are there other universes? What's at the bottom of a black hole?

Every year Edge (edge.org) asks the most interesting questions. This year’s question was: what scientific idea is ready for retirement? Some of the previous year’s questions were: what should we be worried about? What is your favourite deep, elegant, or beautiful explanation? How is internet changing the way you think? What will change everything? What are you optimistic about? What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it?

The best thing about these questions are the quality of answers given by people with diverse background.

Then there are small questions being asked by ordinary people like us, such as, can one ask an unbiased question? Should one always accept what one is told? Should one ask questions to only those who presumably know the answer? If there is difficulty in understanding a point of view, where is the difficulty, in explaining or in understanding? What gives us more stress — when we know too much or when we know too little? Why can’t we walk straight, even when we know that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line? Should we encourage or discourage the appearance of more evolved species for our own survival? Will we ever cure cancer? Can we live for ever?

And the everyday question that bothers us the most is — What does a woman want? zz

(The writer is a biotechnologist and ED, Birla Institute of Scientific Research, Jaipur)

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