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Question or Answer?

Am I Question or Answer? (Part #3)

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One approach is to shift the emphasis from the static specificity of an answer to the dynamic process of asking a question such as "who am I". This approach is of course primarily open to the questioner. But it may indeed be open to others asking the question of another -- and not requiring premature closure on an answer. One can indeed relate to another person -- over an extended period of time -- through the question as to who they may indeed be. This may well be the basis for fruitful relationships -- otherwise undermined by simplistic answers to the question, namely premature closure. Succinctly stated, questions presuppose process, whereas answers are indicative of named objects or categories.

Am I question -- or answer?

As answer "I" buy into various frameworks within which an answer is meaningful and satisfying to others -- and possibly to "myself". This may include a name on a citizenship register or in a telephone directory. It may be an occupational descriptor such as plumber, farmer, physicist, or actor. In some circles this may require a qualifier to avoid being identified as a "nobody" -- perhaps an award winner, or the subject of some public relations campaign, or "married to" one such -- exemplified by the attribution of titles (cf Varieties of Honour and Dishonour: distinguishing intrinsic honour from honourable externalities, 2005) . It may be some other relationship. This is the conventional approach to identity which is also at the origin of much trauma for those who feel impelled to struggle to be "somebody" and claim a sense of inner emptiness where others have a fullness in sensing who they are.

But, if "I" am an answer, who asked the question?

As question, however, the challenge of "my" identity is framed in a completely different way. It is no longer an issue of labels and certificates -- or of being defined by nouns in a particular language which others speak or comprehend. "I" am free to consider the possibility that answering the question may not be possible in a language which others -- or I myself -- as yet understand.

The emphasis shifts from production of something understood to be an "answer" to the process of asking the question -- whatever form that takes. On the basis of the standard interrogatives, possible forms, whether asked by myself or others, include the WH-questions:

  • when am I... myself
  • where am I... myself
  • which am I... amongst my various selves
  • how am I... myself
  • what am I
  • who am I
  • why am I

The point is variously made that science focuses its attention on only some of these questions, despite the eternal challenge of the others. For example, John Herlihy (The Modern World: a traditional inquiry into the nature of scientific knowledge The Qur'anic Horizons, October-December, 1998) makes the point:

Modern science questions, judges, and presides over the acquisition of knowledge concerning an objective reality, but is it ever questioned regarding its purpose and identity?.... The modern scientific elite, who are the high priests of the modern world and who alone have power to speak ex cathedra on such questions as the nature of reality and the origin of mankind, have established the fundamental criteria through which modern man understands the nature of reality and the human beings who inhabit that reality. They alone have the right to form the fundamental interrogatives that make up the parameters of the scientific inquiry.

Over the centuries, indeed for millennia, both traditional scientists and contemporary layman have asked the question who and what with regard to man and the universe, with a view to answering the elusive why, for in addition to the who and the what of existence, traditional man was primarily interested in the why of existence. Meaning and purpose placed the fundamental mystery of the origins and ends of both man and the universe into a comprehensible perspective that resolved in a clear and practical manner the interrogative that lay at the heart of existence. Since the 17th century, however, and the rise of what has come to be known as modern science, scientists have prided themselves on asking not why things are the way they are, but primarily how. They are interested in the what, the when, the where, and above all the how of things in their purely spatial and temporal phenomenality. The question of why at best still concerns those who go beyond the study and investigation of the phenomenal world and are willing to partake of the perennial wisdom, while the question of who still concerns the vast majority of mankind that has never lost interest in their own identity...

More fundamental however, is the existential posture from which any of these questions might be asked and the configuration impelling such questions -- the doubting energy that engenders them. This doubting energy engenders the proto-question which presumably takes the initial "yes/no" form of "Am I" or "Am I not" -- "Do I exist" or "Do I not". Some frameworks (permitting a quadrilemma) may then admit of two related additional forms (cf Kinhide Mushakoji. Global Issues and Interparadigmatic Dialogue; essays on multipolar politics, 1988):

  • Both "Am I" and "Am I not"?
  • Neither "Am I" nor "Am I not"?

Thereafter one or more of the seven WH-questions above become the focus.

More intriguing however is the possibility of identifying with the questioning process than with any of these questions and the forms of the answers to which they may give rise. Any fundamental sense of identity may then be centered more in the dynamic of the questioning process -- or "being the question" in some way, as with "bearing witness". It may be a case of :

"I question, therefore I am", with the corollary "I answer, therefore I am not"

Qualities of questioning?

Are existential questions eternal? Do answers simply multiply and rot away?

Is it the energy of potential that questions possess? Do answers only have the energy of momentum, if they have any?

Do questions challenge patterns -- where answers only reinforce them?

Are questions engendered by the encounter with the wilderness of unknowing? Are answers then the urbanization and industrialization of knowing?

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