Wednesday, February 14, 2007

A Question of Questions

Response to LCB’s Big Question for February

According to Nyaya, an ancient Indian brahmanical school of philosophy (around 3rd century AD), one should undertake an enquiry based on the following principles:

1. Enquire only if you doubt the validity of what is being enquired into
2. Do not enquire if you are certain of the answers
3. Enquire only if there exist different understandings of the same aspect
4. Enquire only if there is a possibility of a certain outcome to the enquiry

In short, the aim of the enquiry is certain knowledge and with that the conclusion of the enquiry. If it’s impossible to arrive at certain knowledge, it is pointless to start the enquiry in the first place. Of course, this enquiry must contribute to the attaining of the “highest good” or liberation.
Because learning professionals can never be liberated (and could soon be an extinct species), we might need to flip some of these principles.

1. Ask questions whether or not you doubt the validity of the information you are seeking
2. Ask even if you are certain of the answers (you could be in for some surprises!)
3. Ask questions whether or not everyone believes in the same answers
4. Ask even when you are absolutely sure that you won’t have a clear or certain outcome to your enquiry

In short, the aim of your enquiry is uncertain knowledge and with that the further opening up of the enquiry. If it’s possible to arrive at certain knowledge, you are probably asking superficial questions. Of course, this enquiry will not liberate you from all ambiguity, but might provide just enough clarity to form your hypothesis and get cracking on your design.

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