Questions, Answers, Truth


"The objective world simply is, it does not happen." ~ Hermann Weyl (1885-1955). 

I found this quote recently in a book written by Frank Wilczek, winner of the 2004 Nobel Prize in Physics. I don't read many books on physics. But I had come across the book somewhere and had loved its photographs, some of the world's most amazing mosaics and art works. Even more, the title, A Beautiful Question, intrigued me. Weeks later, I happened to listen to a conversation that Wilczek shared with Krista Tippet on her NPR radio show On Being. I was hooked.  

Questions are intriguing. Especially in a world that simply is. What do we ask? How can there be answers to what just is? What do we not ask? Witness to our curiosity and aliveness, a good question busts through the closed doors of our consciousness and stops us in our habitual tracks. A powerful question functions as  a dynamic invitation to learn and grow. 

But what makes for transformative questions? For me, and perhaps as in the world of physics, they begin with what is. Where are you at now? What is going on for you? In the ground of what is, we can map a pathway toward possibilities. What are your dreams? How can you get there? Good questions offer a safe space in which to clear the chaotic jungle space of the mind. In this clear, safe space, exploration is possible. Freedom sparkles. 

Good questions are rooted in the present and look at the future. They are often open-ended. When the other person can simply say "yes" or "no," you risk cutting off the conversation. When you ask them why they did something that has already happened, a defensiveness may settle in. Future-oriented and open-ended questions offer a clearance for vulnerable answers to emerge. 

In A Beautiful Question, the question is as follows: Does the world embody beautiful ideas? But how can we possibly know, right? The open-endedness behind this imponderable question has driven science, philosophy, ethics and religion across centuries and cultures. It wants us to look at: What is. How does what is become. From present to future. 

From Plato to Wilczek, many inquisitive minds actually trust that the answer is Yes: A pattern with orderly beauty exists. It's the yes on which most hypotheses build on. So science, in a sense, trusts that the world embodies beautiful ideas. You could say, orderly patterns have allowed science to proceed. But Wilczek's question applies to our lives. In our daily lives, in the ways we work, we too can trust that order and beauty exist. Behind chaos, conflict, overwhelm, harmony exists. Like the scientists, we may not understand the pattern yet, but we can trust it is there. It is. Finding harmony may take a lot of research (Read: inner work) to uncover, but it can become the foreground if we stick with the work. We can make harmony our hypothesis when we deal with problems. As Steve Jobs said: "Because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart even when it leads you off the well-worn path; and that will make all the difference."

Now for the bad news: Wilczek offers an opposite truth, included in his own Yes. Our world embodies beauty and happiness, but our world equally embodies squalor and suffering. In the complementarity of these truths, he implicates, wisdom and clarity reside. This is also what is. 

Complementarity is our life in connection to one another and the world. We hold more than one truth in our hearts. We are with chaos even while we know harmony. The whole and fully-lived complementarity that makes us human holds the beauty of our potential. Rooted  in our own and others' ground, it holds the depth of our compassion. Where am I at right now? What is my dream? Who am I in this dream in relation to the other? How do my goals serve us? We need compassion desperately to give our and others' dreams any substance at all. Compassion, I think, allows us to access insight into harmony. 

It begins with seeing what is. Then asking good questions. Don't be afraid to explore. What is? Why is it important to me? Who else benefits? What is in balance? What is out of balance?

What is something specific in your life that keeps pulling you in with a question? I love this question, borrowed from a article about powerful questions: What if you did nothing at all right now, what would happen?

Let your answers grow from your jungle ground. (Journals always help!) Something will emerge. The jungle clears. Give yourself the freedom of holding more than one possibility for truth. Observe and be your inner scientist. Just answers for the finding. 

Want to read more:

On Being: Transcript - Frank Wilczek — Why is the World So Beautiful?, June 12, 2016: The 50 most powerful questions leaders can ask.

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