Ask More Questions

What percent of spoken sentences are questions? How does this rate change with age? How does this rate vary based on personality, gender, level of education, or even time of day? Questions are the engine of curiosity and the fuel for understanding, innovation, and social connections. We need to ask more of them from the day we are born to the day we die.

calvin question

So why are questions so important? Six obvious reasons:

  1. Education: At their core, questions are the basis for learning and understanding new concepts (as well as confirming one’s understanding of a particular concept).
  2. Advancement: Beyond the education of localized individuals, questions push the advancement of society at a regional and global scale, motivating large groups to build upon answers of the past to find new truths about life and living.
  3. Creativity: Some questions, no matter how tangential they may be to a core topic, are the sparks for creativity and innovative thought for both individuals and groups (no matter how large).
  4. Connections: Questions create dialogue and are two-way (and often multi-way) streets that create bonds between people.
  5. Assessment: Questions are tools through which one can gain a remarkable amount of information on an individual – seeing how they react and respond to certain situations – to determine fit for friendship, collaboration, leadership, or even love.
  6. Identity: Questions do not need to be spoken, but often are the most powerful when internalized in an effort to formalize one’s beliefs, attitudes, and values.

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Knowns, Unknowns, and Aether Abound

Much of our lives is about problems and solutions. Faced with a barrier, we find a way to knock it down. Presented with a challenge, we work to overcome it. Our collective problems bring us together, and our collective solutions make us safer, stronger, and happier.

These problems come in many shapes and sizes: math problems, career problems, logistical problems, emotional problems, physical problems. Rather than maintain special problem solving techniques for individual problem types, we can expand our methods into a global group, and learn from one type what may be helpful for another. Sticking with math – a common language and underlying framework of nature and intellect – we can relate our methods for solving math problems to the rest of the world around (and above us).

There is an innate simplicity to many math problems: there are knowns and there are unknowns. The solutions often reside in the application of methods and operators to the knowns to determine one (or all) of the unknowns. Therefore, the first step is often determining what is known and what is unknown. Although, this notion has been most popularly¬† represented by set theory (a foundational system of mathematics that deals with collections of objects), this concept has been the spark for other applied methods and disciplines through which many more complex problems are tackled in today’s society.

In game theory, a player’s strategy can be represented by differentiating the sets of moves that could make positive gains versus those that could make negative gains, given the possible situations at each stage of the game. Closely related is decision theory, where we look for the pros and cons, uncertainties, and rationalities behind potential decisions to determine an optimal course of action. In chaos theory, we define initial conditions and explore how the behaviors of some dynamical systems change as those knowns vary or as unknowns are introduced into the system.

To delve deeper into the questions of known-unknown identification, set theory, and related applied methods, we can think about a problem that began on day one, has no end in sight, yet has made incredible progress over centuries in terms of approaching a solution: what’s above us? What’s with the sky, the planets, the stars, the universe – the aether that surrounds us?

Is the total set of knowns and unknowns about the universe infinite? Does a new known always present us with a new unknown? Is the same true for every problem, or just some? For which types of problems might this be true? Are we better at approaching a solution collectively or as individuals? How can this be determined at the onset of a problem? If the set of unknowns has no limit or boundary, is the solution intelligently impossible? Does a single element of randomness deny a complete solution from every being possible? Are we better off existing without a solution? Or would we be complete with a world of all knowns?

I fundamentally believe that we find meaning in life through the unknowns, not the knowns. The set of unknowns is infinite, and it is our drive to understand unknowns and, in general, the curiosity into the mysterious world that provides completeness. The knowns give safety, guidance, comfort, and pleasure.

For all problems we face, and as with the aether abound, we can continue to move forward, learn what we know, and question that which we don’t know. We can start with sets – knowns and unknowns – and move from there. Problem solving can be simple, if you start simple. As for the things we don’t know we don’t know – the unknown unknowns – well, we better stay curious with the mysterious, and just be happy for that.

Curiosity, Passion, and Quantifying Human Characteristics

“You can’t light the fire of passion in someone else if it doesn’t burn in you to begin with.” – Thomas Friedman

In his The World Is Flat, Friedman speaks to the growing need for curiosity and passion in today’s job market. Core intelligence, as historically measured by the Intelligence Quotient (IQ), is and will always be important, but in a flat world it’s the curiosity and passion that will matter most.

Friedman references a Curiosity Quotient (CQ) and a Passion Quotient (PQ) that purportedly parallel the common IQ framework for scoring a person’s intelligence. More specifically, he expresses a comparative relationship between the three variables: CQ + PQ > IQ. But can curiosity and passion be measured like intelligence? More generally, can other individual characteristics be measured?

Traditional measurement is the process of obtaining a magnitude for a quantity. Things are measured by counting, and not by observation or estimation. It’s supported by strong criteria that support that measured value, such as a universal frame or scale of reference. By traditional measurement, we cannot really find CQ, PQ, or even IQ. However, there are other types of measurement…

In representational theory, measurement is defined as a correlation of numbers with entities that are not numbers. In information theory, measurement is actually a component of estimation with the uncertainty reduced infinitesimally to zero. Measurement means estimating through support of any number of measurable or unmeasurable parameters, and reducing uncertainty through various means until reaching a high-confidence end value. By the extended definitions of measurement, we can practically quantify anything!!!

So what do we get by measuring traditionally-unmeasurable human characteristics, emotions, abilities, and qualities? What do we get by identifying any new particular Qualitative Quotient (QQ) such as the CQ or PQ? Well, Friedman is on the right track here. We become smarter by surpassing our current understanding of intelligence. And as our QQs surpass the IQ, so does our ability to flatten the world, innovate, grow and succeed as a civilization and society.

The process of trying to quantify characteristics helps us realize the underlying factors that contribute to a specific quality. What makes someone passionate? How can we tell if someone is curious? Is it genetic, demontrated by experience, and exhibited sub-consciously? Can it be determined through the collective interpretation of dreams? Examining the underpinnings of qualities makes us more intelligent as individuals, organizations, and societies. Once quantified, we can look for patterns and trends in our data across different geographies, demographics, and slices of traditionally-measurable data.

What we’ll learn then, well, I’m curious to find out.