Tuesday, April 18

Being a question

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, erm, I mean Wikipedia has this to say about answers:
According to the Hitchhiker's Guide, researchers from a pan-dimensional, hyper-intelligent race of beings, construct Deep Thought, the second greatest computer of all time and space, to calculate the Ultimate Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything. After seven and a half million years of pondering the question, Deep Thought provides the answer: "forty-two."
Some dialogue from the book will clarify a bit more:
"Forty-two!" yelled Loonquawl. "Is that all you've got to show for seven and a half million years' work?"
"I checked it very thoroughly," said the computer, "and that quite definitely is the answer. I think the problem, to be quite honest with you, is that you've never actually known what the question is."
I have this to say about questions:
Questions are a highly valuable part of human discourse. The strict definition of a question is this: "A sentence worded or expressed so as to elicit information." In our society, however, a question indicates a lack of information. One only asks a question when they don't understand, or don't have an answer. To us, however, being the one with all the answers is a mark of prestige. Being the one with all the questions makes one needy, unwise, foolish, or most often a suck up.

I would like to propose that a question need not indicate a lack of knowledge, and, in fact, those that do not lack knowledge are the ones who ask the best questions. An example to illustrate my point. In many classes the teacher will often ask the class "Any questions?" At a certain point I came to understand that if the call for questions remains unanswered that it is a very bad sign. The lack of questions didn't indicate that all the students understood the material. Instead, it indicated that the students didn't understand enough to know what they didn't understand. Often the smartest student in the class, (the one who reads the chapters, and starts the homework ahead of time) would ask a question none of the rest of us realized could be asked. This question would lead the teacher to explain something more in-depth, and the whole class would learn.

I eventually came to the conclusion, that the most efficient way to teach a class is to have two experts, one who poses a question and the other to answer it. This call-and-response style would utilize the full intelligence of both professors, and bring their experience into the questions that are asked. As a person who has deep experience with the subject at hand they would know to ask questions that have useful and practical applications, especially if the person asking the question already knows the answer.

Take, for example, a forum that is often strictly Q&A a witness being examined in court(these might be leading questions, I don't know, I'm not a lawyer). The lawyer can control the information by asking specific questions, questions worded just so that the mitigating explanations don't fit in the answer. "Did you remove a cookie from this jar?" "Yes" "Did your Dad say you could eat that cookie?" "No." If the lawyer doesn't ask "Did your Mom say you could eat that cookie?" (to which the answer is yes) then one may come away with the impression that the kid is a cookie thief. A questioner can have great levels of control over the information revealed, and this control is hightened when the questioner knows what the response will be.

Feminists critique the common habit of girls and women phrasing information that they already know in the form of a question (I'll take "Nature of God" for 100 Alec). This critique takes the assumption that being the questioner indicates a lack, and is therefore a subordinate or weak position. If however, one believes that to be a good questioner one must have just as thorough knowledge of the subject as the answerer then being a questioner has no negative connotations. In this way being a questioner can be feminine, and being an answerer can be masculine, and men and women can fill fully complimentary roles that are equally valuable. While I do not doubt that many women do speak in questions to appear less threatening, I maintain that the question format is not to blame. No one doubts an attorney's power as they cross examine a witness, and I can believe that women can ask questions that would unnerve even the stalwart.
A question is a powerful tool, one that may clarify why the answer to life the universe and everything is 42. If only we knew what it was.

No comments:

Post a Comment