Asking the right questions.


Asking the right questions - by P.K.Odendaal - August 2013 

And all the time we thought that the most clever man was the one who gave the best answers to the most difficult questions asked!
False.
It is the man who asks the most clever questions. That is how we got to all our inventions. Someone somewhere knew which questions to ask - but knowing that does not come easily.

The difference between the two is quite easy to understand. To answer correctly we have to have knowledge. To question correctly we have to have insight. And the two are not the same - in fact they are very different. It is about the way we think.
I might start with a joke. Mike's wife had a new baby, but he was born without ears. Callie told Jimmy, also a friend of Mike, to visit Mike and his wife in the maternity ward, but warned him not to say anything about the boy's ears, as it was a very sensitive issue to Mike and his wife. When Jimmy saw the boy's ears, he told Mike that he must please look well after the child's eyes. Mike wanted to know why he said that, to which Jimmy replied: 'Because he will never be able to wear glasses'.
Can you and I make this unlikely connection between ears and eyes? That is what it is all about. To make an insightful connection between the knowledge you have and the possible application of that knowledge.
Eratosthenes, the Librarian at the ancient University of Alexandria one day read this sentence from a parchment in the library: 'At noon on a certain day of the year, looking into a well at the city of Syene in Egypt, on the Tropic of Cancer, one would block the reflection of the sun'. For us this is useless information, but Eratosthenes went on to calculate the circumference of the earth from that one sentence and some insightful questions.
It is similar to the work a detective does when he unravels a case. It brings us to the basics of cognition, which is the recognition of patterns and applying analogies from previous known patterns.
We started at the most basic of patterns when we started Grade 1. We learned that 1+1=2 and still today we use that self-same pattern to do millions of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division sums. It is just by accident that we have used the notation 1+1=2. People with another language and letter system would have written it differently, but the pattern would have remained the same as in ^ :: ^ {} ^^ or whatever you wish to use. From my notation here, we can extend it and know that ^ :: ^^ {} ^^^ - QED. So patterns are our main tool for recognition, development and creativity.
Now to come to the right questions. 
There are really only three questions everyone should ask, but never do as they think there are no answers to them. I will ask them and try to answer them, and you will see that it is easier to answer than you think.
These questions are:
1.    Who am I?
      I wish to start with a short joke about it. A very important man who was used to always getting what he wanted, one day went up to the Information desk at a large airport, asking for some unallowable favour. When the clerk refused the favour, he asked he whether she knew who he was. She then blurted out on the public address system and asked for general help from all the other travellers to come to the desk because there was a man who did not know who he was.
      The question can easily be answered, but it is a lifelong quest, and we need to go rationally about it. It is like getting to know a friend. You do not get to know a friend in one day, as it takes years to know who he/she really is, what he/she likes and dislikes, what he/she thinks about things, what inspires him/her, what his/her talents are, whether he/she can be trusted and how they act under duress and stress.
      And that is the recipe you and I will be following to know ourselves. We need to take time to get to grips with ourselves, making friends with ourselves and digging up what we do not know about ourselves from our subconscious mind, which is a library of zillions of facts and truths about ourselves. It is called meditation, and if we do not want to do it alone we visit a shrink to do it for us, or to start us on that path of self-discovery.
      Apart from this we also need to learn things about the world and life and we need to learn to do things. Only then will we be able to make an assessment of what we think about things and which things we are good at doing - and then we will really begin to discover the thousands of talents which were bestowed on us; on each of us differently.
      Many philosophers have been at this question for centuries and have not come up with any answer, because they had asked the wrong question and wanted to find our existence on another level, which of course is a bridge too far. 
The next two questions are somehow intertwined and addressing the first will also lead us to answering the second.
2.    The second question is: What am I doing here?
      I must revisit Marxism to answer this question more fully. The whole argument of Marxism is that most labour practices alienate the labourer from the product of his labour, from his aspirations and from his pride in himself. You can read my article: 'We are the aliens' about this. Even we as mankind in general have alienated ourselves from our roots and from the earth - and from each other - and this process is continuing today in the sense that we have even alienated us from our own society. All we do nowadays is typing away on our smart phones to a very large machine called a webserver to stay in touch with I know not whom who are far away. To hell with society and mankind. We should wake up - our friends and our society are around us or should be. It is there we need to make a contribution.
      I must also revisit an equally well known event from the Second World War. During Operation Market Garden the Allies had to capture and save bridges behind the German lines so that they could use them later. The bridge at Arnhem was too far behind the German lines and could not be held, and a book and film was produced about this Bridge Too Far.
      A Bridge Too Far is also a common phenomenon in our own lives when we try to over exert ourselves or accomplish something which at that moment cannot be accomplished.
      There are really only two things we need to be doing here. The first is to serve God and the second is to serve Mankind. However, we have not begun to understand these two concepts and do not know how to comply with them - and strangely enough, we have gone in the totally opposite direction with the result that today we are alienated from God and from Mankind - and this alienation is getting bigger every day as technology advances to free us from that, and as we become more affluent.
      Only once we have come fully to grips with these two will we come to understand the last question, and this brings me to human rights and universal suffrage - my old enemies.
      Both came as the answer to the wrong questions. In the case of universal suffrage, the question was: 'How can women become like men?' The correct question should have been: 'How can we as women serve mankind' - and for that no voting rights would have been necessary - and this also applies to men. If men asked themselves the same question they would not have been in parliament today robbing their nations of its wealth, but adding to it. In fact, there would have been so few men available for doing this community service that elections would not have been necessary. There would have been too few to select or vote for, as most men are intent on serving themselves, as the politicians are doing today.
      If we look at human rights, the argument is just as simple. Let us say that human rights were evenly distributed among mankind. Then it would have been so that it was distributed by individual, as voting rights are, regardless of the value, skills and competence of the person in serving his nation. We would then have taken certain rights from the excellent individuals of our species to give to the undeveloped ones and that would lead to survival of the weakest. You can read my article on that elsewhere on this blog. In history, the world was developed, ruled and saved by people of outstanding ability - a few humans of excellent intellect, knowledge, power, vision and competence. It would have been detrimental to the survival of such a society if the rights of these individuals were given to the meek, mild and feeble. Sorry, I have no issue with the latter, but it is plain that all humans were not created equal.
      The correct question would have been: 'How can we best distribute human rights for the survival of our community or nation?' One would have found that an uneven distribution would have been the most favourable one for that. 
3.    The third question is: 'Where do I come from?' … and with that the door is opened to other similar ones, like 'Is there a God?' If I think I come from somewhere, then God must exist, because it is only God who can bring me from somewhere else to here without me realising, noticing or knowing that.
      Secondly, if I am there to serve mankind, I would touch the heart of God and know Him, and it would not have been necessary for me to ask such a question. But, with our present inability to serve each other it is still a Bridge Too Far.
      You may take issue with me for the fact that I have answered this question in a very simple and practical form, but I really think that is the level at which we should answer it.
      In its most elementary form I could answer this question of 'Where do I come from?' with the words 'New York' or 'Johannesburg', but that level of abstraction is just too simple and a non-sequitur.
      In its most virtual and meta-physical level, the philosophers of old have tried to answer that and have come up with nothing.