|Why Am I a Slave?
Questions that have forever changed our understanding of the world
A. Troglodyte, O. F.
“Half the job of getting the right answer is finding the right question.”
Sitting alone in my cave, as a troglodyte is wont to do, my tranquility is interrupted by a question that floats uninvited into my mind. Annoyed that I don’t know the answer, I go next door to consult my neighbour, only to find that he has decamped for the season to his winter cave in Palm Springs. Discouraged, I make the fatiguing trek to my local li
ary, where the musty smell of old books and the predictable peace and quiet quickly put me to sleep. When I awaken, the question still nags at me, so I undertake the onerous task of opening a book and I begin reading.
A few pages later, I make a startling discovery. It turns out that unanswered questions have been at the heart of intellectual progress for centuries! Even more, it seems that learning how to ask a good question is a skill we all need. Doctors need to ask questions to diagnose illness. Police officers need to ask questions when investigating a disturbance. Lawyers need to cross-examine witnesses.
Journalists, it seems, find it necessary to ask questions of just about everyone.
I also learned that discovering the right question can be tricky. Half the job of getting the right answer is finding the right question. Who would have guessed?
The more I read, the more I realized that the right question can open up completely new subjects of investigation. The right question can motivate the scientist, the novelist, the voter and the small-business owner alike. A good question can help each of us see the world and ourselves in dramatically new ways.
Rather annoyingly, the more I thought about this, the more I was intrigued. And the harder it was to get back to sleep.
A. Troglodyte began writing at Oxford University over a century ago. Recently, he (Or she? Or they? – no one really knows) has re- emerged to give advice to today’s talented, hard-working college and university students.
4 May 2022
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