If you are a person – a thing that lives a life separate to animals and plants – then you THINK. You do it all the time. You QUESTION your existence. For example – when you leave your house in a morning exhausted and brimming with tension because you have a hundred-and-one unfinished tasks to complete, only to turn up at work and be bawled out by your boss about the hundred-and-second task she’s landing you with, you immediately QUESTION her attitude and QUESTION your own ‘putting-up-with-her-particular-brand-of-crap’ behavior.
That process inside your head has a name. It is called philosophizing. You are a PHILOSOPHER.
Now, I’m betting that you never thought you of yourself as a philosopher. This is because philosophy is portrayed as a very difficult discipline, only entered into by men with beards. But at its core, philosophy is just a fancy word for ‘QUESTIONING STUFF’.
Philosophy – or ‘questioning stuff’ – is the basis of all human knowledge: physics, history, psychology, story writing, Pinky and the Brain –EVERYTHING CAME OUT OF PHILOSOPHY. This is because by ‘QUESTIONING STUFF’ we then ‘LEARN HOW STUFF WORKS’.
In order to make this ‘question to how’ process occur, we humans have a magic word. This magic word is not ‘abracadabra’ or ‘Shazam!’ though both of those are also great. We use a tiny word that looks inconsequential when written down and yet is the most powerful word in the world. And that is:
‘Why?’ is what makes us different from everything else. It means we are neither cat nor dog, nor fish, nor fowl. This teeny word is the essence of humanity; it is what it means to think. In short, it is what another human being or philosopher called Descartes meant when he wrote:
I think, therefore I am.
Or, to be really fancy, the same phrase in Latin is:
Cognito ergo sum.
In short, if you are human you cannot avoid asking questions. So don’t bother to resist – just go with the flow. Accept it, Philosopher – you were born to ask ‘Why?’
Why – if you’ll pardon the pun – am I telling you all this? Well – asking ‘Why?’ is the first step in creating a research project. In order to have something to investigate, you need to have a question to find the answer to. However – having the courage to start out on such an exercise is not easy for three reasons:
Firstly, we live in a world full of information, a world where lots of people speak to you from platforms like Twitter and websites. They do their best to convince us all that they asked ‘Why?’ a long time ago and have gotten all the answers so there’s no reason for you to go find them for yourself. Basically it can seem like there’s nothing new to know.
Secondly, a philosopher such as Plato lived three thousand years ago. It was easy for this Ancient Greek dude to sit on a rock, stare at the Mediterranean ocean and have a good think about the nature of his existence. Life was simpler then, answers were easy to come by. Not like now, with millions of books and millions of websites and millions of god-knows-what-else to refer to. Just starting research seems an exhausting task.
Thirdly – and this is the worst one – we may feel awkward asking ‘Why?’ because we feel ashamed by our lack of knowledge, that we might appear stupid by comparison with our peers. This fear may just be a personal misgiving or it may come from a bad experience in college or on a website forum where we asked a question and were made to feel foolish for it.
With all of these fears against us, some people may be resigned to never questioning anything ever again. Isn’t it better to just keep your head down rather than feel unoriginal/exhausted/stupid? But tell me – when you just go through life accepting all the crap that’s thrown at you – how does it make you feel? Do you feel good? Do you feel empowered? No, of course you don’t. Instead, you feel lousy and worn down. But there’s a reason for that which I’ve already explained. When you stop questioning, you stop believing in your humanity. You make yourself no better than a pug dog, and though pugs are lovely and cute and make for great entertainment on the internet, a pug dog isn’t expected to go out to work at a job he doesn’t like because he has a family he cares for. The pug trades his ignorance for the right to step outside the responsibilities and cares of the human, adult world. You don’t get that luxury.
So – let’s address these fears.
1) Everyone knows everything already.
Well, a lot of people know some stuff. And a few people know a lot of stuff. No one is saying that what you are about to go and investigate for yourself is going to change the world by making a startlingly original contribution to it. But IT WILL SEEM ORIGINAL TO YOU. You are about to LEARN SOMETHING THAT YOU DID NOT KNOW BEFORE. AND THAT IS ALL THAT MATTERS.
2) It’s going to be a lot of work.
Some research can be. The project behind this website is ‘a lot of work’. But this is because your Editor is an idiot who doesn’t know when to quit. Your research is your property. You can make it as small as you want it. Setting out how large a project is going to be is called setting its SCOPE or PARAMETERS. It can be tiny – requiring a one-word answer – yes or no – or it could involve a bit more. Basically, you are in control of this so there is no need to fear its enormity. We are going to look at scope setting and project planning in more detail in future articles. Won’t that be fun?!
3) I will be made to feel foolish.
The only shameful thing about a lack of knowledge is if we do not seek to put that situation right. Not knowing something is NOTHING TO BE ASHAMED OF. Wallowing in our ignorance is the only sin here. The first step in learning is to admit to what you do not know and go from there.
The world is actually full of helpful, knowledgeable people who want to reach out to you. Really – and I should know this because I benefit every day from such help. Librarians, archivists, staff in comic stores, comic book fans online – the world actually teems with brilliant, beautiful people who want nothing more than to welcome you in and tell you what they know in a friendly manner. Knowledge, like the common cold, is infectious. Once you know something that excites you, you want to share it with the world. THEY WILL NOT MAKE YOU FEEL BAD.
There is, however, a very small group of people who will go out of their way to sneer at you when you ask a question get something wrong. You may not come across them during your research journey. However, I cannot guarantee that you will avoid them altogether. But remember this – no-one has the right to make you feel bad because they know something you don’t know. And those who do so are animals, not humans. This is because they don’t believe in the power of ‘Why?’ They try to deny your humanity and so end up destroying their own. THEY ARE STUPID, NOT YOU.
Okay – we have established that we are all philosophers, we have defined a research project as the question ‘Why?’ and we have allayed our fears about asking that question. I hope that now you are ready to at least read our other advice in this section. But most of all, I hope that you are going to research something. This is because, if you’re going to be a human and put up with all the rubbish that goes with being human (anxiety, bills, working 9-5), then you might as well be a complete human, a questioning human, a human who takes all that life has to offer by offering that life all that she or he as a human possesses. And there is no greater human quality than to THINK, than to QUESTION – in short here is no greater power than the question ‘WHY?’