Mind if I Ask?
The British detective Sherlock Holmes asked a lot of questions – some he’d asked to himself and others to those who could possibly offer information to help solve the crime. A medical doctor goes through a similar questioning process while making a diagnosis. To prescribe medication or to give advice, the physician must know the patient’s symptoms as well as other bits of information about his or her medical history.
Medical doctors and detectives weave their questioning as they uncover information. Information they gather during an interview combines with their goals and hypotheses to determine the remaining course of an interview.
Needless to say, questions are tools for both doctors and detectives. But more broadly speaking, questions are tools for any thinker. Questions stimulate the mind and in large measure determine the content upon which the mind focuses. Good thinkers are naturally good questioners, and likewise, good questioners are typically also good thinkers.
The Socratic Dialogue
The philosopher Socrates taught students not by lecture, but rather by a process of questioning — a process now recognized as the Socratic dialogue. Socrates would ask questions in order to mentally awaken his students. He knew that progress in thinking could only be made by first helping the student to uncover that which he didn’t know — this despite the fact that the student may have avowedly claimed to know it prior to questioning. Socrates understood that people are able to maintain a false confidence in their knowledge and that exposing their real mental voids, if they did in fact exist, was a primary in helping them to think more clearly.
The Interrogative Life Style
Socrates’ dialogue represented his style of teaching. Using questions he opened the listener’s mental eye and helped to ignite a purposeful line of thinking.
His dialogue affected the listener’s thoughts because questions motivate one to derive answers. In general questions motivate a thinker by establishing goals, these being represented as the answers to be derived.
The interrogative life style is a personal adoption of the Socratic dialogue model. By asking yourself questions, you’re able to stimulate your thinking and attain results much like those found through the Socratic interview.
To adopt this method of thinking you must formulate questions and possible solutions in writing. This will give you a necessary clarity unmet by the processes of thought alone. Language is the only means that gives you the precision to derive both the specific goals and then the steps necessary for their goal-attainment. Desire alone is not enough to guide your achievement.
Begin to ask yourself questions with a writing pad and a pen in hand. Deriving questions on paper requires the proper level of intellectual precision.
Adopting the interrogative life style requires first that you learn four major identification questions.
These questions are general, and they must, therefore, be applied to some specific context. Regardless of the context, however, deriving answers to these questions forces you to think. And since thinking is the prime cause for all achievement, asking questions naturally begins the process toward achievement
Thinking is itself a process of identification. To think of something is actually to identify something; it is to bring something into your mental focus. To discriminate the differences between things is, for example, to identify those differences. The goal of all focussed thinking is identification.
Answering any of the four following questions is to identify an answer: “What?”, “Why?”, “How?”, and “When?”.
What? – The universal Identification Question
The question “what?” is the primary and universal question of identification. Things, facts, relationships, and properties are all objects of the question “what?” It’s a question of discovery that excites and directs the mind to discover the specific unknowns.
The question “what?” is a primary for the achiever because it is used to identify every aspect of a planned destiny: What are your goals? What are your desires? What do you need to learn? What actions are necessary? What are your problems? What do you anticipate?
Why? – The Identification of Cause or Reason
The law of causality says that all happenings have antecedent causes. And as a thinker you have the capacity to discover causes by directing your mental effort to their identification.
But why ask why? What are the benefits of identifying causes? Answers to these questions become evident when you consider the definition of achievement within the context of causality. Achievement is the “causing of” desired results. As a thinker you are a causal agent with free will, and to effect desired results you must choose a course of action.
Without knowledge of the specific actions necessary to cause desired results how can you act methodically? You cannot. Without a foreknowledge of the possible results that will follow your action, you are a slave to your whims. And this is a certain road to failure.
Knowledge of cause gives you the foundation to devise a course of action necessary to effect desired results. To develop a successful method, therefore, requires knowledge of causation, and this knowledge is, of course, the result of asking the question “why?”
How? – The Identification of Method
Taken together, the group of actions necessary to achieve a goal constitutes a method. And in any single method there are usually multiple steps, each one causing some specific result, which is a vital link in the overall effectiveness of the method.
There are thousands of established methods for achieving the most common goals, losing weight, for example. Established methods are helpful because the labor of developing the method has already been exhausted. Without even knowing how or why it works, you can employ a diet and lose weight.
But what must you do when there are no established methods to achieve your goals? The method must be of your own devise. You must create the method to achieve your goals. Asking the question “how?” is the first step to begin that process.
Goal attainment demands both a commitment to action and knowledge of method. Devising methods of accomplishment means that you must train your mind upon their discovery by asking the question “how?”
An understanding of causality, developed by first asking the earlier mentioned question “why?” enables you to formulate methods. The experience of success and failure is a extremely important for the thinker.
The question “why?” has logical priority in the achievement of your goals. It is only with the knowledge of causality that you can predict the results of your actions and develop methods with the degree of confidence that incites you to take action
When? – The Identification of Time or Schedule
The first two identification questions, “what?” and “why?” are primary questions for any curious person. Curiosity urges a person to ask these two questions about many things. These, plus the additional two questions “how?” and “when?”, constitute the full set of achieving questions for the achiever.
Employing method to achieve a goal consumes time. Plans for action must always, therefore, consider the limitations of time. The question “when?” forces a thinker to consider his actions in relation to the rest of the activities in his life. It is in this respect that the question “when?” urges the thinker to define priorities and then to develop schedules with respect to those priorities. Additionally, asking the question “when?” commits a thinker to action.
The question “when?” is mentioned as the last of the four identification questions, and this is fitting since asking it assumes the prior determination of “what?” your goals are and “how?” you are going to achieve them.
Socrates found answers in a simple way–he asked questions. The Socratic model is important because it lends evidence to the claim that questions are an important tool for thinking. Questions motivate a thinker by establishing goals (answers), and they steer a thinker by helping to focus his mind on possible answers. They also act to uncover mental voids in a thinker’s mind–voids that are hidden by the cloak of false confidence that he may unknowingly maintain.
Levi Hill — Copyright 1993-2003