Towards the Art and Science of Asking Questions

by Win Wenger, Ph.D.
published in The Stream, November 2003
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I have long believed, given our almost limitless capacity for effectively answering questions, that if we could further develop the art of asking questions, we would be in for some huge benefits and advances.

Also, I have long believed that to make it a point each day to ask ourselves several questions, the discipline of asking questions each day would give us huge gains. It is the key element in the Socratic method and its applications.

This is why I proposed, during an October workshop in Ireland, and again during the November Double Festival, that participants keep a journal in which they ask themselves three questions a day and answer two of them, either by use of our creative problem-solving methods such as Image Streaming, or directly.

I also propose organizing an unofficial task force and focus of inquiry, whose purpose is to develop the art and discipline and procedures for generating useful questions.

Sliced one way:
What are the best questions one can ask about the day, his job, his profession, his life, the needs of those around him, his reason for being, his community, his nation, the world, and the other great issues?

Sliced another way:
What are the circumstances – and what are the feelings – one should learn to recognize and use as a cue to ask questions? And what should those questions be like, in various of those circumstances? What questions are appropriate not just for adults but also for children to ask and effectively answer, at various ages, in what situations?

Sliced yet another way:
What are appropriate daily questions at different educational and functioning intellectual levels? For example, what are matters about which one of high educational or scientific background and, say, 180 IQ, would find useful and appropriate to ask? What kind of day-to-day, situation-to- situation questions could enable a mildly retarded person, by making a practice of asking and answering them, to live independ- ently and constructively (while doing that and other practices to improve his intellectual functioning)? Or someone stuck in a ghetto? What are good questions for people between jobs, or facing matters of conscience, or a dysfunctional family (from either end) or a strained marriage, or in a loss situation, or challenged by a large opportunity, or various other situations? Can a formula of best and most useful questions be developed for each of these instances?

Sliced still yet another way:
Which might be the most useful formats for journals of questions-and-answers, generally and for people in various of the above circumstances? (We’d need to keep this pretty simple to keep it workable: I know of at least one journaling program that complexified the process into something few are willing to take up.)

One consideration:
Context-specific formulas of specific questions can make it easy for a wider number and range of people to apply such a process successfully. Too much rigidity, however, can lead to absurdities and counter-productive effects. How can this be rendered concrete-supportive, flexibly open-ended and dynamic, and simple, all at the same time?

Some things make this task easier:

  1. As in High Thinktank, asking, “What IS the best question to ask in this context, and its best answer?”
  2. All the various question-answering, problem-solving tools, once the question is identified.

There are some parallels here with uses of Image Streaming, which guarantees that no one ever, ever again has to suffer writer’s block or artist’s block of any kind. Just Image Stream in that context, start describing, and the stuck point is gone as the narrative or essay picks right back up.

An end to being stuck…if we can develop such a questions art and science effectively, we can guarantee that no one need ever be stuck in his situation or life, ever. Reflexively notice when you encounter a difficulty, turn it into the appropriate question, answer it, and move forward.

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