What is ‘the’ question?

Trisha asked:

What is the question?

Answer by Gideon Smith-Jones

My first impulse was to take a swipe at this, which on the face of it doesn’t look a lot different from, ‘Is this a question?’ which we get asked with boring regularity. (‘If this is an answer,’ is one response.)

There is something which is the question. For whom? What is the question for me? for you? No. For everybody — even if they don’t know this. There is ultimately only one question, and that question is…

Let’s consider some candidates for ‘the’ question:

— How can I find love?

— How can I attain eternal salvation?

— How can the human race end suffering and achieve world peace?

(OK, those are two questions but they usually go together.)

— What is the answer to the question of the Universe, Life and Everything?

(Douglas Adams humorously makes the point in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy that we can’t know what an answer to that question means until we know what that question actually is.)

I am bored of eager proselytizers trying to convince you that their question is ‘the’ question. It’s a disease. An epidemic. It’s one of the aspects of human frailty that we manage to con ourselves into thinking that there is just one thing which is in question. As if, if only we know the answer, all problems would be solved, everything would be wonderful, etc. etc.

If you want to know what drives you, get psychoanalyzed. Then you will learn that what you really want is to kill your father and make love to your mother, or own a penis, or some such nonsense.

Human nature is complex. The things that move us, the things we find puzzling, or gripping, or exciting can be many and various.

As a heuristic, it can be useful to ask, when you are faced with a complex problem, ‘What is the question?’ It’s a way of focusing your inquiry and being methodical. You attack the weakest point, tease out the piece of loose string or cotton that allows the rest to unravel. Then you will likely discover that the first question you asked wasn’t the question you were really after.

One question leads to another.

‘The’ question does not exist.

One thought on “What is ‘the’ question?

  1. Famously the last words of Gertrude Stein have been “so this was the answer. But what was the question?”

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