Ask George, an average person, what questions he has about quantum mechanics. I would guess he could only formulate one question – probably something like:
- What is quantum mechanics?
He may soon learn that quantum mechanics is the science of the very small: the body of scientific principles that explains the behavior of matter and its interactions with energy on the scale of atoms and subatomic particles.
After learning the answer to his single question, George will look for answers to questions such as:
- What are the scientific principles?
- What are examples of subatomic particles?
- When do things get small enough?
- How small are atoms?
While some answers may be answered to his full satisfaction without generating more immediate questions, answers to the more complex questions will most likely create new questions – often more than one. In other words, just a a few answers tend to create a lot of questions.
I had many questions when I began to study physics. At the end of my studies I realized I had even more questions than at the beginning. I did not expect that. First, I was disappointed. I even feared I had failed to learn things well enough. It was the moment when I became aware of my interest in “questions”.
I was fortunate to be surrounded by many knowledgeable people for many years. Both Cambridge, UK but also Silicon valley, USA were hotspots in that respect. One thing I noticed was that people I liked to learn from where those who also had questions. They often said that they do not know something – or they would love to know more about x.
Those who did not express their questions typically also did not share much of their knowledge. Perhaps it is harder for reluctant communicators to accumulate and create reliable knowledge? I could not help but suspect they did not know as much as their question loving peers. Occasionally I could confirm these when they could not answer the questions I had.
Later I found that question-lovers tend to be more knowledgeable in practically any area (where they ask questions..) – not just in academia.
Recently I asked my kids who they think knows more: a person who is not afraid of asking questions or one who does? It got them to think. I am pretty sure there are exceptions. However, as a rule, I rather ask if I feel I can learn something.
Keywords: asking questions, good questions, fear of asking a question