Professional posts ought to offer authoritative advice, or say something else of value, but if I let that idea into my head, I don’t think I would write anything. You can’t let authorship and authority get confused. You might as well invite Writer’s Block to sit down on your front porch for a long spell. Who could ever write if you thought your contribution ought to be, or even might be, truly valuable?
You have to remember, when a question for analysis comes to mind, that it has probably intrigued or troubled someone else. You can’t let doubts about the quality of the question make you hesitate to ask it, nor should you let such doubts infest your thinking in response to the question. Teachers used to say, “There are no dumb questions.” They would add, “And no dumb answers, either.” The only stupid people are those who try to shut questions down.
Nevertheless you want to ask, what makes one question better than another? Or better, why do we find ourselves drawn to some questions more than to others? For example, “Why am I here?” seems to be one of those problems that every person who has ever lived wants to consider. We might also ask, “What did I have for dinner on Monday night?,” but that would merely test our memory. We like to play Trivial Pursuit not because the questions matter to us, but because it’s fun to play with friends, and test our knowledge about all sorts of less than critical topics. So how do we know when a question matters to us? What makes it a question we care to think about?
To return to our school teachers, we don’t want to compare apple questions with orange questions, correct? That is, we don’t gain that much if we try to compare Trivial Pursuit questions to questions about life’s meaning or the nature of the universe. A Trivial Pursuit question ought to have a definitive answer, and be of medium difficulty: not too easy or too hard. A philosophical question probably should not have a definitive answer, and perhaps the harder the better – though the philosophers I know probably never saw a question they didn’t like.
These reflections about the relative value of questions draw you toward categories of knowledge, where you feel comfortable about comparisons among questions of the same kind. Let’s consider some foundational categories then – foundational because they reflect the way we organize our knowledge:
- Scientific questions – How does a jet engine work?
- Philosophical questions – Why am I here?
- Technical questions – How do you transmit electromagnetic waves?
- Practical questions – How do you make bread?
- Historical, literary, and humanistic questions – Who are your heroes, and why?
When we compare questions as to quality, we do better to compare within categories than across them. We don’t want to become so systematic, though, that we miss the interconnectedness of all questions. That’s where the joy of inquiry and discovery lies: wherever we start, we may end in a place that’s delightful and surprising. To undertake those journeys, we often rely on intuition to recognize quests that engage our minds or enrich our hearts. Intuition helps us recognize questions we ought to think about, questions we simply enjoy thinking about, and questions of doubtful value. It is the small voice that guides us.
Without intuition coupled to a quest for knowledge, where would we be? Lost.