Most of us were raised to look for the answers to everything. From the time we could talk, we were trained to have the right answer.
Now, according to a recent column in Scientific American by Stuart Firestein, chair of biological science at Columbia University, science is beginning to realize the limits of this emphasis on knowing facts and having the right answers.
The proliferation of facts (which are different than knowing) is what’s led to this development. When the average high school student knows more about science than Isaac Newton, accumulating information about what’s believed to be fact is of limited usefulness. Scientists are now developing what’s called “cultivated, high-quality ignorance.”
James Clerk Maxwell, perhaps the greatest physicist between Newton and Einstein, said, “Thoroughly conscious ignorance…is a prelude to every real advance in knowledge.”
What’s the value of that kind of ignorance? It leads to questions! Not only do these questions make science more fun, says Firestein, but “Questions are more accessible and often more interesting than answers; answers tend to be the end of the process, whereas questions have you in the thick of things.”
Firestein freely admits, “I can’t grasp much of the immunology even though I have a fancy Ph.D., but the wonderful thing is that most immunologists can’t either—no one knows everything any more. I can, however, understand the questions that drive immunology.”
Firestein deplores the emphasis on answers that can dominate our public thinking on science. The question-based view of science “has taken a backseat in the public mind to what I call the accumulation view of science—that it is a pile of facts way too big for us to ever hope to conquer.”
Firestein recommends another approach: “If scientists would talk about questions rather than boring your eyes out of their sockets with reams of jargon, and if the media reported not only on new discoveries but the questions they answered and the new puzzles they created, and if educators stopped trafficking in facts that are already available on Wikipedia—then we might find a public once again engaged in the great adventure that has been going on for the past 15 generations.
“So if you meet a scientist, don’t ask her what she knows, ask her what she wants to know. It’s a much better conversation for both of you.”
Or as Gary Douglas has been saying for 25 years, “A question empowers, an answer disempowers.” Science couldn’t have said it better…and it’s saying it 25 years later.
Unlike science, Douglas has applied the tool of living as the question to daily life beyond the rarefied fields of immunology and the like. He recommends his clients use questions on a regular basis.
Some of his multipurpose questions include:
- How does it get even better than that?
- What else is possible?
- What’s right about this I’m not getting?
- What would it take for (your desired outcome) to show up?
- What question can I ask?
- What possibility can I create?
- What contribution can I be and receive?
- What other choices do I have?
If you’d like to know what questions could create in your life, you can learn about them through the books written by Gary Douglas and Dr. Dain Heer, as well as through seminars such as Foundation and Level 1. You can find the books and information about the seminars on their website, www.accessconsciousness.com
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