Imagine you lived in a place where you couldn’t say anything to contradict the person who somehow gained power in that region. What if you couldn’t even question something that they said which was plainly wrong? What if the consequence of questioning resulted in you being punished, either physically or mentally?
I have a good guess about what might happen: you’d slowly learn to not question what was said. At first, you’d probably think about your objections in your head, mulling over them as the person says ridiculous things, but after a while you’ll begin to not think about it as much. Sooner or later, you won’t even question what is being said.
This is the potential scenario that I find extremely dire for our civilization (and we used to live in one such as this, of sorts). When someone cannot ask a question about an assertion that is made, we have lost the ability to improve our knowledge of the universe. When we tell ourselves that we know everything there is to know, we blind ourselves to the potential of finding out more.
The reason I feel so strongly about this is because I believe questioning is the bedrock of science. Without a question, there is nothing to investigate. Without asking, “Could I be wrong about this?”, we turn our backs on the reality that our human senses are extremely fallible. Our senses tell us things that are wrong all the time. Trying to look at something at about the location of our nose tells us such.
Therefore, the quality that I want to promote in any student I meet is curiosity. I want them to ask questions, and to always be reevaluating the situation. I want them to try and ask questions about concepts they don’t understand, but I also want them to question the established authority. After all, new scientific advances don’t only come from improving our measurements. They come from questioning the established scientific knowledge and saying, “What if it actually worked like this?”
Asking questions is essential to the scientific enterprise. By asking questions, we dig deeper into the mysteries of the universe, and I have difficulty in seeing a scenario in which more knowledge is not a good thing (except, I suppose, for the person who is ruling others).
Unfortunately, there seems to be a sort of reflex to those who want to question things that just “feel” right. For example, many people will get very uncomfortable if you tell them that free will is just a construct that we make for ourselves, and we are in no more control of our atoms than we are of other atoms. When someone questions this implicit assumption, people don’t like it. Similarly, people don’t like when others question truths in their favourite holy text. In essence, it’s a taboo subject.
But the only reasonable reaction to confronting two conflicted ideas (such as free will and determinism, or a holy text and modern science) is to ask which one is correct. Therefore, it’s absolutely essential to be able to figure out which one makes the most sense in our world.
That is why questions are so important. They pierce issues straight in the heart, exposing their weaknesses in explaining the world for all to see. Questions serve as reference guides to figuring out what the heck is truly going on in our universe.
Yes, it would be nice to simply go to a certain person and ask about anything concerning our world, but this is simply a pipe dream. If we want students to think about the deeper workings of our universe, we need to educate them in science, and a great way to do this is to ask questions.
A skeptical outlook on things doesn’t mean you don’t trust anyone. It means you acknowledge that it is extremely difficult to figure out things about our universe without asking questions.