Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Bad questions

I often encounter bad questions.

That is not to say stupid questions, but rather just bad questions.

"What is a bad question?" you ask.
Good question...

In order to dissect the concept of a question, we need to first understand the anatomy of a true question.

Firstly questions are prompted by a lack of a specific knowledge. In order to discover the answer to my ignorance, I question an expert- real or self-professed- in order to resolve my doubt and concern. If, for any reason, the questioner already knows the answer to his question, then one needs only to ascertain the true motives of the questioner and the question- rather than its answer.

Secondly the questioner wants to know the answer to his question.

If one either knows the answer, or alternatively does not care about the answer, the dynamic that is created between the questioner & the respondent is not an educational paradigm, but rather a debate, argument or statement- but it is not a true question.

But even if these two components are fulfilled, we may still be confronted with a bad question.

Most questions are built upon assumptions. These assumptions create the basis and framework which form the foundation on which the question can be built.
For example- "Why did Abraham Lincoln abolish slavery?"
The built in assumption is that  Abraham Lincoln did, in fact, abolish slavery, and my only question is to understand his motives.
This assumption may be correct, but if it is not, then the question is a bad question.

The reason I call it a bad question is that if the underlying assumption is incorrect, the question ceases to exist. I don't need to answer the question, because there is no question.

Allow me furnish you with a few biblical examples, see if you can spot the underlying assumptions:

"Why does the Torah not mention dinosaurs?"
"How can the Torah talk about the world being 5773 years old when we know it is billions of years old?"

Assumption: The Torah is a history book, and as a history book it appears incompatible with modern scientific knowledge and understanding.

"How do snakes & donkeys speak in the Torah?"

Assumption: The Torah is attempting to tell us a story where the reader is supposed to imagine being a witness to the events as they are told. I am struggling to imagine a time where animals converse with human beings in a shared language. (Other than Dr Doolittle)

"What fruit did Adam and Eve eat in the Garden of Eden?"

Assumption: It is important to know the answer, despite the fact that the Torah leaves the fruit's identity anonymous. Curiosity for it's own sake is a value- i.e.. I am just interested to know the answer.

These assumptions may or may not be correct, but they still form the basis of the question.

If these assumptions are indeed wrong, then perhaps more important that answering the questions, we need to first and foremost, question the veracity of our assumptions.

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