Good Questions

By Dr. Vince

There was this guy, Phil, a real scholar. He studied everything – history, art, philosophy, literature, science. And he knew it all. Except he wasn’t quite sure what it was that he knew. He had pretty much decided that there was no such thing as truth, and so he couldn’t quite come to grips with all the things he had put in his head. What were they? Falsehoods? Half-truths? Lies? "Imagine that," he thought. "A big head full of lies or something. Rubbish."

He was reading at the time he thought this, and it make him stop cold. And he knew right then and there, with the very last word he had read -- it was the word saddled as in He was saddled with responsibilities beyond his means -- he knew when he pushed his eyes away from that word that he would never read again.

At first, he was happy with his decision not to read anymore. But it was like ending a lousy relationship. He felt an emptiness, and he knew that he needed to replace it with something. But what? He thought very hard about this. And then he realized that everything he knew was also known or pondered by people in search of answers, and that he, like them, had been a man in search of answers. And he thought some more. What about a knowledge based on questions, a kind of hypothetical knowledge? And then he became so bold as to coin a term for this new knowledge base that he was about to create: hypothogisms. It meant ‘the knowledge of interesting questions.’

His first hypothogism was somewhat silly, and he knew it. He thought, What if cars and trucks were kangaroos? They could leap and bound their way to their destinations. It was ridiculous, and he realized this, but it put him on a course which he found intriguing. What he thought, if tires were made of soap? People could clean the roads as they drove. He was fascinated by the possibilities. He couldn’t stop. What if people dressed like houses – wore shingles and siding and dry wall? What if people wore windows to be revealing? What if sneakers came with decorations on the front like hood ornaments? What if the world were made of glass – or ham – or cellophane – anything, for that matter? He found himself reeling at the very possibility of possibilities. But all of this was very practical. He hadn’t even considered the intellectual. But when he did, he was equally astonished. What if Plato had been Beethoven or Kafka had been Kierkegaard? Imagine Plathoven’s ninth symphony or Kafkagaard’s Fear and Trembling. What if Fellini was Martin Scorcese? Imagine a Scorini film. He couldn’t stop himself. These hypothogisms were just the thing he needed. It was like having a knowledge that hadn’t happened yet. It was, in fact, like creating knowledge that didn’t exist.

On and on he thought. He was an absolute thinking machine. What if Romeo and Juliet were in Hamlet? What would Mercutio be like then? What if the Brady Bunch were stranded on Gilligan’s Island? What if Lillian Gish had been a dancer? What if cheese were fish? And what if you could measure nothing by degrees?

Now he couldn’t stop – he wouldn’t stop. No! What if teeth had limbs and mouths were horse tracks? What if flies were rectangles and pencils were guitars? What if elements were apostrophes and tears were spices? Oh, this was grand!

Then, the unthinkable happened. You see, he knew these guys across the street, and he thought about them momentarily. He thought, What if Bobby Hill was Jimmy Kennedy – that would make him Bobby Kennedy. And he stopped. He had created, well, for lack of a better word – a fact. This so upset him that he started reading again – that very night. And he decided to continue reading. And he decided, too, that as long as he was going to read, he was never going to think again.

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