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How to Ask Good Questions

How to Ask Good Questions

How to ask good questions

There are 15 essential questions that you can ask about anything.

  1. What exactly is it?
  2. Does it actually exist?
  3. How do you know it is real and is not fake news?
  4. What are the origins of this thing?
  5. From what materials or component parts is it made?
  6. What is its internal structure or organisation?
  7. What is its function or purpose?
  8. How does it work? How does one work it?
  9. What is its location or range?
  10. How does it change and at what rate?
  11. What are its start and finish times?
  12. What energy does it use, and from where does it get it?
  13. What money does it use and from where does it get it?
  14. What are the normal conditions that this thing requires to operate?
  15. What can we never know about it?

1. What exactly is it? What is the definition of this thing?

The first thing to ask is for a precise definition of the thing in question.

There are thousands of words, such as fairness, freedom, health and happiness, that have multiple possible meanings.

Therefore, you should ask for, or give, a specific definition.

2. Does it exist?

The second thing is to decide whether this thing is real or not.

There are many things people talk about that don't exist.

You would probably agree that ghosts, werewolves, and Santa Claus do not exist; but what about God, angels and life after death?

It is essential to clarify the thing you are talking about is real and not "fake news".

3. How do you know it is real and is not "fake news"?

If you have decided that it is real, the next question is how do you, (or the other person) validate your knowledge?

How do you KNOW that you are not mistaken?

What evidence and what logic are you using to prove your case?

4. What are the origins of this thing?

We live in an evolving universe. Everything that exists now has its origins rooted in earlier things.

Therefore, it is always useful to ask, from where did this thing originate? What forces brought this thing into existence?

What were the earlier, more primitive forms? What were the stages of development that brought this thing to its present state?

All these and other similar questions are often very illuminating.

5. From what materials or parts is it made?

Nothing is one thing. Everything is made up of constituent parts that are fixed together in some way.

For example, you are made up of a set of ten subsystems. These subsystems are made up of organs, organs are made up of tissues, tissues are made up from cells, cells are made up of organelles, organelles are made up from molecules, molecules are made up from individual atoms, and even atoms are not the end of the chain. Atoms themselves are made up of subatomic particles and waves.

So, you should always ask, from what components is this thing constructed?

Understanding a thing's constituent parts is a big step forward in your knowledge.

6. What is its internal structure or organisation?

If you wanted to make a more in-depth analysis, then you would ask HOW the parts are organised and relate to each other.

What is its design? How do the pieces fit together?

This information will reveal a lot of valuable knowledge.

7. What is its function or purpose?

If human beings made the thing in question, then it has a purpose or a function.

Everything that people do, they do to achieve a purpose or objective. For example:

  • A chair has a specific purpose.
  • Money was created to accomplish a specific purpose.
  • Governments are elected to achieve a purpose.

It is always instructive to ask, "What is this thing's main purpose?"

8. How does it work? How does one work it?

There is a difference between asking; How a thing works, and how to work a thing. For example, you may not know how a car works, but you know how to drive a car.

It is often not necessary to know how a thing works, but it is often essential to understand, "How to work it".

So, one of the most useful questions to ask is "How do I (we) operate this thing?"

9. What is its location or range?

Everything that exists, exists in some location and most things have a limited range. So, it is often beneficial to ask, what is the location and what is the range?

10. How does it change and at what rate?

Everything is changing. Nothing stays the same. Things that seem immovable, such as a mountain, are in a state of flux.

Mountains move, but very slowly. They are eroded by the wind and rain. We don't see it because we live life on a different time scale.

The ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus wrote: Nothing is: Everything is becoming.

So, you may profitably ask:

  • How is this thing changing and at what rate?
  • How is it likely to change in the future?
  • What forces will cause this thing to change?

11. What are its start and finish times?

Everything that exits, exits only at certain times, and its duration is limited. So, it is always legitimate to ask questions relating to time:

  • When do these things start and finish?
  • What are the main time divisions, for each of its various stages?
  • What comes first, second, third etc?

12. What energy does it use, and from where does it get it?

Everything that exists requires, or is, a form of energy.

So, it is always legitimate to ask questions relating to energy, such as:

  • What energy does this thing need?
  • How much energy?
  • From where does it get its energy and by what means?
  • How inefficient is it?
  • What losses should we expect to see?

13. What money does it use and where from does it get it?

In the human world of politics and economics, the questions relating to energy can also be asked about money:

  • What money does this thing need?
  • How much money?
  • From where does it get its money and by what means?
  • How inefficient is it?
  • What losses should we expect to see?

14. What are the normal context or conditions that this thing requires to operate?

Everything that exists, exists within an existing framework, or context. And everything is affected by its context.

You are affected by your social context, the people you know and the society in which you live. The length of an iron bar is affected by the temperature; the bar lengthens with heat and contracts with the cold.

So, it is always legitimate to ask questions relating to environmental contexts:

What is the "natural place" for this thing? How does the environment affect this thing's behaviour? What are the environmental limits beyond which this thing will not function?

15. What is unknown about it, and what do we need to find out?

Human knowledge is itself limited. We cannot know everything about anything.

Scientists call this the "uncertainty principle".

So, it is always legitimate to ask questions relating to uncertainty:

  • What don't we know about this thing and need to discover?
  • What can we never know about this thing?

It is often useful to quantify our level of ignorance.

Then we will fall back on statistics and use statistical analysis of probability instead of objective knowledge of facts.

Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers. [Voltaire]

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