QUESTION: the principal linguistic device of an unrepentant sceptic

The interrogation of all aspects of existence is the on-going preoccupation of all living entities. Nature is so infinitely imbued with uncertainty and thwarted expectations that trying to elicit responses which might be helpful in negotiating them is an almost continuous process. Most of these existential interrogations are never verbalized, but express themselves as physical-feedback sensory probings. The dog that sniffs an object of dubious provenance is conducting an enquiry into its possibilities as potential food. Checking the contents of boxes... decorated, black or mysterious... is the compulsive preoccupation of any dedicated doubter. When these and similar such attempts to obtain informative responses are expressed in the form of a language, they are called 'questions' or 'queries' or 'enquiries' etc. Poetic extrapolations aside then, 'questions' are linguistic devices of recognizable form and protocol, that are used to attempt to elicit a response that is focused on and relevant to a specific issue of interest to the 'questioner'. Questions are such a vital element in the processes of social interaction that they are imbued with diverse recognizable forms and protocols. Specific words like 'why', 'what', 'who', etc, grammatical forms like word inversion, rising intonation delivery conventions, and written symbols like '¿' and '?' are common markers that emphasize to the recipient that a response is expected.

One predominant use of questioning is to provoke a casual informative response about uncertainties and unknown details pertaining to all the diverse social situations. What is your phone number? Where is the nearest elephant? How much money have I lost?... and so on... More structured questioning... both written and verbal... is used to obtain and evaluate information in all such formal situations as examinations, national censuses, police interviews, court cross-examinations and the like. Both these casual and formal uses of language in the form of questions, are proactive stimuli that facilitate the essential communication processes of a functioning society. It is not existentially possible to unambiguously provide information that is adequate for all circumstances. Questioning is the mechanism that fills in the gaps and helps oil the wheels of social interactions.

If a human can avoid the lethal hazards of existence, be fortunate enough to be reasonably nourished and housed, and have the opportunity and inclination to acquire a level of literacy and education, then it may be inclined to attempt a conceptual analysis of its experiences and to express such simplifications verbally in the form of statements. 'Life is a bed of roses'... 'War is Hell... 'Sex is over-rated'... 'Money is the root of all evil'...etc. Questions are the verbal initiatives that are used in trying to resolve any disputations that arises over the truth or falsity of any such 'philosophical' statements. In any sceptical challenging of statements, questions are the inquisitorial probings that seek to reveal any contradiction. As a demonstration of technique, dialogues were constructed hundreds of years ago, which purported to be master classes as to how this method was to proceed and succeed. Examples of dogmatic suppositions are examined by uncompromising, pragmatic enquiries, in an attempt to remove any postulated credibility, by reducing implications to a tangled and twisted heap of 'logical' contradictions. The reality however is different. Any such attempted argumentation with individuals who believe in certain (often religious) perspectives as 'articles of faith' is a standard exercise in futility. They cannot... by the self-evidence of their own convictions... ever be wrong. They either do not understand a contradiction, will not admit a contradiction, or will even quite cheerfully accept a statement and its contraction as both being acceptable because they are true in different universes.

The most significant and far-reaching use of questioning is with respect to its role in the scientific method. Although not always rigorously adhering to standard procedures, never-the-less the elements in the cycle of hypothesis, prediction, question formulation, experimental design, evaluation and duplication are eventually present in one way or another. A very famous hypothesis is that 'no physical entities can travel faster than the speed of light'. A prediction based on that hypothesis might be 'no neutrino can travel faster than the speed of light'. The critical question then is 'How long does it take a neutrino to go from A to B?' If an experiment can be designed, built, conducted, evaluated and duplicated, then the original hypothesis may or may not be able to be rejected, and the propounder of the hypothesis thereby gain status or not as the case may be. The role of questioning in the scientific method is a vital contribution to the advance of technology and the deflation of the inexhaustible font of dogma and quackery.