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Ask A Question

When writing, failing to question your fundamental thesis means you've gone completely wrong.

Written by johnleemk on 3:21:39 pm May 27, 2007.

Recently, I fell ill with the flu, temporarily preventing me from writing new articles (and thus I owe an apology to anyone who was disappointed). During my convalescence, I scrolled through the list of every article ever published on this site and realised that a lot of their titles are questions.

I do not know if I am more likely than other writers to title essays with questions. But I think it encapsulates a good idea of how to approach writing and thinking.

As explained before in I Don't Know, I acknowledge that there are a lot of things I don't know. That means that there are a lot of questions to ask, because I don't have nearly all the answers.

When I write, I am trying to put my abstract thoughts in concrete form. Writing, then, is a process of thinking aloud.

But when I write, I don't have a fixed conclusion in mind. I am trying to get to the answer of a question, but I don't have a predetermined answer in mind.

When I already have a conclusion in mind because of preliminary thinking, I still don't have a fixed route to get there. Sometimes in the process of writing, new arguments for or against the conclusion make their way into the piece.

The most dangerous thing any writer or thinker can do, if you ask me, is to have a predetermined answer and a predetermined way of arriving at that answer. (If the fellow does not have a way of arriving at the answer, then he or she is simply not a thinker.)

This is the sort of thing that has led to many dangerous fallacies. Supply-side economics, for example, is one of them — supply-siders have a tendency to selectively compile evidence in favour of tax cuts to support their predetermined conclusion that tax cuts are always good.

Similarly, many intelligent people fall victim to conspiracy theories because they forget to ask a question about the phenomena they are investigating. They have an end in mind already, so the question is not "Who killed John. F Kennedy?" but "What evidence is there that John F. Kennedy was killed by a conspiracy?"

We have to question our fundamental ideas before going further. If we start out with an answer in our head, even our questions will end up warped, and we will look like buffoons.