Art of Asking


…and the Art of Asking

Archaeological findings, investigated by measuring instruments of science, tell us, the first human-like beings roamed the lands of West Africa about four million years ago.  Later research revealed, it took us two million years to pick up a stone and use it as a tool.

And because necessity is the mother of invention, she brought the motivation for this process of developing tools and many other things, subsequently.  Why, after two million years discovered we that we had the need for tools?

And if the thinkers of early India, Egypt and Greece, respectively eight thousand, six thousand and four thousand years ago were the first in their cultures trying to understand their world then it would have taken us again two million years before we started asking why things work the way they do, why they are as they are.

When counting millions, thousands can be neglected.


Then, when we were searching for an answer to something, we knew what it looked like and had a rough idea about a probable result.  Therefore, when we had found the answer, we knew it was correct because we knew what we were looking for and therefore would / could recognise it.

For example: “Does the Sun rotate around the Earth or the other way round?”  The answer can only be one out of two, and it was one or the other, and it did not matter which one it was, as long we all agreed on the one answer and thus, it was true.  But we continued looking because there was doubt.  Now we know, beyond doubt.  No one asks this question, anymore, the one about the Sun and the Earth.  And, why do we need to know that?


Gradually, our world was demystified, culminating in the process of inquisition and the looming end of alchemy in the early thirteenth century.  As a counteractive process to the disappearance of mystery the art of asking why, called science, was developed with large support by the church.

We either believe, or we must know, and they want control over both.  If all those, who instigated this process could have foreseen the ramifications, would they have started it?  The power it will / can reach depends on us: we can either believe and not ask why, or remaining curious and ask.


Sometimes, questions do not provide us with answers we expected.  We may find several solutions, and we have no criteria to select the correct. In those early days (before the official onset of science in the mid-sixteenth century) the ground rules of scientific working found their early inspirations in nature and the existence of a creator god.

Then, Monk Wilhelm von Ockham formulated a rule, still applied today, known as Ockham’s razor (it cuts sharply between available solutions): “Simpler explanations are, all other things being equal, generally better than more complex ones.”  And the other fundamental rule of science states: “A hypothesis (a notion, idea, thought, explanation) is (under certain circumstances) accepted as being true until disproved…”  …and then replaced by the disproving matter.

During the next half millennium, more often than not, scientific truth has been built on accepted hypotheses, which were later discarded.  More truth has turned untrue than there exists.  All scientific truth has in it fallibility, which does not stop us applying it and produce all sorts of working apparatus, which keep on working even after the underlying scientific principle has been disproved.  Why?  Should they not all stop, suddenly?

One must ask oneself, how can one trust walking on a structure if one is aware of its superficiality?


We have not learned much, but with what we believe we know, we have created the world we live in.  For example: “We still don’t know much about magnetism, but we use magnetism to produce electricity, about which, we don’t know much either.”  Where would we be without it?  Who knows Nikola Tesla?  Take him out of the equation, and we would still live like in the early 19th century.  Do you know, can you imagine what that means?


The art of asking questions has developed, science expanded and brought us the industrial revolution, devolution or evolution.

In ancient Greece and later in Rome and the rising centres of educated Europe, asking questions used to be a sport of the general public, the public debate.  There were rules of ethics and moral and eloquence of speech and the cunning of an argument.  I remember it from living in the mid 60th.  For a speaker not to anticipate the why question was unthinkable.  Where do we find today such quality in the parliaments of the world?

Alas, I also saw its rapid decline since the mid-1980.  Searching has turned into researching, mulling over what is already known, sifting through the same stuff/chaff, crafting ever narrower meshed sifters, hoping to find another seed, others had overlooked.  Where is the original thought?

Product innovation used to be instigated by people’s needs.  For at least since early 1990, progress is determined by greed, regurgitating the same products fooling the uneducated consumer with superficial cosmetics.  Only when absolutely necessary, marginal improvements are attached to the old, to create the illusion of progress, mainly breeding mostly more of the same.

If we want to overcome pollution, non-sustainable lifestyle, and greed as the core evil, we need to break out of this repetitive cycle, stop this treadmill and find fundamentally new ways of living.  Who is prepared to make the first sacrifice?


In this light, I would like you to read my offerings, the stories on this website, my humble attempts at reviving the Art of Asking WHY.  It is a tiny sprout and needs to be treated gently and deserves our kindness and encouragement.  Let us all be parents in this process.  And when it is ready, let us challenge it in a kind, guiding, caring way with our best intentions.


Wolfgang Köhler
11 June 2011

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