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Defense of question marks (by Tomáš Sedláček)

The world is governed by the feeling that questions should be answered - namely that the role of each question mark is to find a suitable exclamation mark, a correct answer, a deadline, an absolution, a denouement, a secret; put simply, the final solution, which ideally is agreed upon by everyone. And if the answer is not absolutely definitive, there must be at least a consensus among most, if not all.

What is interesting about us, people, is that we do not consider question marks as part of knowledge or wisdom. Many of us feel that the question mark is wrong; it is a sign of our ignorance. While it is almost exactly the opposite; through these marks of uncertainty, by questioning what we think (whether it seems obvious or intuitive) is the beginning of our wisdom. The fear of the whole universe, respect, questioning, and humility are the elements that create vibrations in all that is solid.

Therefore, a submission of responses is neither the only nor the most important role of question marks. Many questions are meant to exist, to be here. In order to not to be (self)confident or (model)confident or (world)confident. And to have some constant doubt in the back of the head, such as what if everything is completely different (as  the old Jewish wisdom packed within a simple anecdote - as is often the case when conveying true wisdom). I fear the world of people who are without question marks, who have clear heads and who see question marks as scornful. People, who do not stop for a chat, do not look around, do not hesitate.  David Bowie sings "Thanks for hesitating" in a song from the album Heroes. Machines do not hesitate, people do.

Questioning life

Those who concern themselves with addictive substances as subjects of analysis should notice that one of the most addictive substances is a book. The first dose, which is usually free (often even served directly at school) gives the sense that you will find answers to your questions marks, but after reading them you have more of those questions (it's almost a cliche) than when you started - and then here comes the dependence, the urge to reach a deeper understanding. In a nutshell, you get one book and you immediately gain irresistible urge for another dose. And so it goes on and on exponentially because of each book that is worth it, the taste grows and another four books is needed to satisfy this desire.

Personally, I understood economics the most after reading an introductory book, the textbook Economics by Samuelson. Everything was so clear.  Amongst all the various concepts presented, actually, just a few question marks existed. Nevertheless, as I digested every other economics book, I realized that I understand less and less. My initial understanding was the understanding of the child and the combination of two million simplifications in the first book was a system which gave the impression of simplicity (which probably was the purpose). Since then I dread people who have read just one economic book (especially, if it was just Samuelson). They easily fall into the strong temptation to believe they know what economics means. And that's scary: they are without question marks. Without those question marks that would certainly have been created in their minds, if they had read more books.

Praise uselessness

Sometimes the role of question marks is to lead to other question marks, which can be answered - and thus we find "temporary question marks" helpful. They become a catalyst, although they will never be answered, pointing the way through as we push the boundaries of our knowledge.  The purpose is to reveal another topic full of new, interesting (and perhaps more useful) question marks.

Sometimes the most important role of questions is to remain purely useless - as it occurs in philosophy or art. The "usefulness" is derived precisely from countering usefulness.  In no case, is it without benefit, or unnecessary, but quite the contrary; such questions are active against usefulness by preventing the way, hindering the smooth flow of productivity. It forces us to stop the process, which is indeed efficient and ultimately powerful till the last millimeter, but we are not entirely sure what the goal we are chasing is. You must admit a slowing down or even stopping such a course is the best thing to happen. And that such a stop can lead us to the target much faster than a sprint, especially in a situation where the operating vector is invalid.

After all, can you imagine life without art and philosophy, life without question marks? We would be very efficient units, which would yield and submit to any ideology and on Monday morning we would be looking forward to work, where once again we can effectively useful – but with the distinctive limitations of a “Without question marks” usefulness.

About the Author: Tomáš Sedláček (1977) is a Chief Macro-economic Strategist at ČSOB. He served as a non-political expert advisor to the First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance of the Czech Republic, with special responsibility over fiscal consolidation and the reform of the tax, pension, and healthcare systems. He also served as an economic advisor then-president of the Czech Republic, Václav Havel. (