Meaningful mandatory module

I just started my second year of school and this semester I’m taking a module that has been prescribed to me — GEQ1000 Asking Questions. This is a module which is mandatory for the majority of students in my school, regardless of faculty. Not only was this a prescribed module, but it was also a pass-fail module. Which meant that you won’t get a grade that affects your Cumulative Average Point (CAP, or GPA in other schools).

Needless to say, the consensus toward a mandatory general education module is that it is not that important and no one’s really interested in modules like these. Being a pass-fail module, that also meant doing the bare minimum required to pass. I did some poking around online, reading the reviews posted by seniors and sure enough, they reflected the said consensus.

I too came into this module with low expectations, all ready to do the bare minimum. But, I was thoroughly surprised by the Philosophy segment in the first two weeks. The prof discussed the need for a module that teaches us something seemingly fundamental — asking questions. He discussed the irony of having a Question pillar as one of the five general education ‘pillars’. Questions often tear things down, while pillars should be doing the opposite.

I’m not going to delve too much into the content of the lectures but I think he did a great job proving the importance of this module, by tearing down numerous assumptions that many have made about the field of science, human nature and other supposedly ‘simple’ things, just by asking us questions. Seriously, more questions than answers were provided! For instance, have you ever wondered what a question truly is? What about the science behind questioning? Is it a sophisticated intellectual ability privy only to us advanced human beings, or something more primal and instinctive, shared by all animals?

So far, I’ve found this module extremely interesting, and even somewhat mind-blowing. But then again it’s only the second week and I might not enjoy the other non-philosophy segments as much. We shall see. I shall end with a quote by Sylvain Bromberger that was mentioned in the lecture.

We find ourselves, as individuals and as communities willy-nilly cast in a world not of our making, in which we want to survive, if possible to thrive, and whose features we want to understand. We start out with little prior information about that world, but we are endowed with the ability to come to know that there are things about it that we don’t know, that is, with the ability to formulate and to entertain questions whose answers we know we do not know. It is an enormously complex ability derived from many auxiliary abilities. And it induces the wish to know the answer to some of these questions. Scientific research represents our most reasonable and responsible way of trying to satisfy that wish. That is its most tenable defining goal…

However, in seeking its goal science repeatedly runs into difficulties. Many of these difficulties are physical in nature and call for the design of new and more powerful instruments. Others are psychological and call for the invention of devices that supplement our memory and our computational powers. Still others, and those are the ones that are relevant here, are intellectual and pertain to our ability to conceive, formulate, consider, connect, and assess questions, and to our ability to conceive, formulate, consider, connect and assess answers. These sorts of difficulties often call for inspiration and creative intelligence. Careful observation and description are not enough.

Sylvain Bromberger, On What We Know We Don’t Know