Last updated on May 8, 2020
A Game of Questions
People ask questions all the time. If you’re in academia then part of your job is thinking of questions people haven’t thought to ask, or perhaps you’re someone with a daily writing practice that includes reflection. In any case, asking good questions is important.
Learning to ask good questions comes from thinking and experience. It also comes from getting out of your own way. Of finding out what assumptions you’re unconsciously making, figuring out what aspects of the problem you are not considering, and even which you may be avoiding because they might seem too simple.
Sometimes when we’re trying to figure out good questions to ask, we get stumped. One way to get over this is by playing a mental game. The picture above is of a dot on my journal. Below I list fifty questions I came up with about that dot, and after those I’ll show you how this exercise can be used to spark ideas for new questions in areas that are of more interest to yourself.
- What colour is it?
- How close to circular is it
- Who drew it
- What material is it drawn on
- What is it’s location in relation to the top left corner
- Is the ink evenly distributed
- How does the ink permeate the surface? Perhaps like like tree roots going through soil? Or like water through sand?
- Is there any creature that would find the dot “tasty”?
- When was the dot drawn
- Does it have a smell
- Given that the dot covers an area, and at each point the ink has a “depth”, what is the distribution of the depth the ink sinks into the material?
- What is the surface area of the dot?
- What volume of ink was used for the dot?
- Why was the dot drawn and not another shape?
- What type of instrument was used to create the dot?
- What was the brand of the instrument?
- What possible instruments could have created the dot? (pen, quill, etc,.)
- How long did the idea of drawing the dot exist in the mind of the person who created it?
- Was the dot created with erasable ink?
- How long did it take the create the dot?
- What was the angle of the writing instrument at when it draw the dot?
- Was the dot drawn by someone who has drawn many dots before?
- What was the emotion of the person who drew the dot while drawing the dot?
- Is the dot part of a symmetry group?
- Is the ink flammable?
- Since the ink was liquid at some point, can the dot evaporate if enough heat is applied?
- Would the paper burn before the dot started to evaporate?
- Did the process of creating the dot change the structural integrity of the book cover at that point?
- If the dot were seen by another person, would it spark any memories in them?
- What is the circumference of the dot?
- What “colour” does it look like to someone who is colour blind?
- What is the depth of the indent made by the writing instrument?
- What is the equation of the three dimensional surface of the dot?
- What bacteria/microbes grow on the dot that do not grow on the other parts of the surface? (I have no idea if this makes sense as I’m not very experienced with biology, but the question still counts!)
- If there are microbes/bacteria on it, how many different types are there?
- If there are microbes/bacteria on it, what do they “eat”? The ink? Each other?
- How long did the ink take to dry?
- What surfaces would cause it to smudge if it was rubbed with them?
- What surfaces would cause it to not smudge if it was rubbed with them?
- What is the conductivity of the ink?
- Does the dot have a matte or glossy finish to it?
- How many rotations of the writing instrument were used to create the dot?
- How much did drawing the dot affect the density of the material below it?
- What was the probability of the dot being drawn in that colour?
- Will the ink run if exposed to liquid?
- If the ink would run, are there any liquids that it could be exposed to without it running?
- What is the texture of the dot?
- Could this dot be used in a magic trick?
- Given that the dot has depth, what is the volume of air that it can hold up to its “highest point”?
- Would Bob Ross call it a pretty little blue dot? 🙂
Something to keep in mind…
A little diversion to talk about what I’ll call meta-questions. These are questions about the questions, and anything that might affect the types of questions that come from this exercise. Keep some of these in mind. (And be sure to share any others you come up with in the comments below :))
- What questions might someone from another profession think to ask?
- What questions might I ask under a different emotional state?
- Is there a way to make the dot more general? Perhaps just the notion of a “dot” instead of a picture of a dot. Then we could open up other questions like could an elephant stand entirely within the dot?
- How long have I been asking questions?
- Am I fatigued?
- Have I ignored asking certain types of questions because I’m only coming up with 50 instead of 500?
- Would asking questions after a few shots of tequila help?
- How many questions could I ask if I could not use the word “what”?
- How many questions could I ask that require me to have the letter ‘z’ in them?
- What book could I read to give me a different perspective before I start asking questions?
- Would the time of data affect the types of questions I ask?
- What questions could I come up with while working with someone else?
- What life experiences have you had that might affect the types of questions you asked?
- How would someone from a different country or culture ask questions of the dot? Perhaps something related to a bindu?
Quality Extraction and Application
Admittedly, asking this many questions about a dot seems overkill, but it has several interesting payoffs. Above you’ll notice that the questions are anywhere from simple, to interesting, to just plain weird! (Magic anyone?) Questions can be imbued with a variety of characteristics, and this exercise helps expose a few of them.
The point of these questions is to generate qualities in that can be applied to your original topic that is of primary interest. For example, under the original domain you may not have thought of relations to time, conductivity, or probability. Now you can take these qualities and ask yourself if they affect what you’re investigating. Below I list some other characteristics to ponder based on the questions above:
- Physical features
- Location: absolute or relative
- Interactions with other mediums
- How does an intermediate process operate?
- Am I ignoring any intermediate process?
- Does this have to do with our five sense?
- Is there an association with time?
- Does time affect any qualities of the object/process/etc,?
- What affect does the object have on the environment (including people)?
- Should any precautions be taken?
- Is there a way to look at it from a probabilistic perspective?
Keep in mind that you can use something other than a dot. Anything will do. A zebra, a building, or even a memory. Also, these types of inquiries may or may not have been obvious when you were generating questions for your situation, but this shows how questioning a different topic can lead to new ways to ponder the main topic, and hopefully help you learn something along the way.