Chuck Klosterman and Questioning the Unquestionable

Curiosity often starts with a question.

From the youngest age, children ask, “Why?”, and throughout adulthood, people wonder, “Am I on the right path?” or “How can I make a bigger impact on my community, or the world?”

However, what happens when one asks a big question, perhaps the biggest: “What if we’re wrong?”

It’s this exact question that New York Times Bestselling author Chuck Klosterman is asking in his newest book, aptly titled, But What If We’re Wrong?

Klosterman, who has built a career on asking his readers to re-think everything from pop culture icons to sports and the notion of “villains”, is now challenging readers to question if our society might be wrong about some of its most deeply held beliefs, such as how gravity works, the notion of reality itself, and if The Beatles will even be remembered as a great rock band hundreds of years in the future.

Why? It’s not because Klosterman secretly wishes to defy gravity or prefers the Rolling Stones, but because he firmly believes our deepest-held beliefs can–and should–be challenged as new information and perspectives come to light.

Questioning the “Unquestionable”

However, in a book where answers still seem speculative at best, or practically science-fiction at their most far-fetched, one could debate if it’s worth questioning the unquestionable. For Klosterman, the real victory is in the act of asking and the questions themselves.

Ideas such as the Earth being flat or the center of the galaxy once seemed unquestionable, too, and now in retrospect it becomes hard to imagine that these ideas were accepted, unchallenged, for so long. Every big solution has to start with a big question, but we need to be brave enough to at least ask.

As Klosterman puts it: “What about the ideas that are so accepted and internalized that we’re not even in a position to question their fallibility? These are the ideas so ingrained in the collective consciousness that it seems foolhardy to even wonder if they’re potentially untrue.” In short, “It is impossible to examine questions we refuse to ask.”

Klosterman calls these kinds of questions, “the big potatoes.” Of all the questions, it’s these seemingly outrageous inquiries that are the ones in need of asking.

So, if the most difficult inquiries are also the most necessary, how does one begin to question the unquestionable?

According to Klosterman, “We must start from the premise that–in all likelihood–we are already wrong. And not “wrong” in the sense that we are examining questions and coming to incorrect conclusions, because most of our conclusions are reasoned and coherent. The problem is with the questions themselves.”

At Packback, we, too, believe the right questions are key to moving the human race forward. We encourage students to become active participants in their education, instead of passive recipients of information. Everything is “fair game” to be questioned on Packback Questions.

We encourage constructive dissent: questions and answers that challenge preconceptions and assumptions. Here is a great example of one of our students on Packback Questions challenging the notion of whether or not a company declining to hire someone because they have dreadlocks should be considered racist.

defacto-racism

While this question solicited many insightful responses, this particular student really challenged preconceptions by reframing their perspective and going on to question the sources of the problem, not just the symptoms.

Challenge the present by reflecting on the past

To help himself challenge universally accepted thinking, Klosterman stoked his curiosity through a simple shift in his mindset; he thought about the present day as if it were the past.

So he asked himself questions such as, in 300 years, will a band like the Rolling Stones be remembered? What about the rest of the 300+ Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame inductees?

What can we learn from applying this same experiment to education?

If educators from 200 years in the future were reflecting on our education system of today, what questions might they ask? What about our current education system would seem archaic to a professor from 2216? What ideas and methodologies would they challenge? Which of today’s deeply-held beliefs about how students learn and the importance of education might have been uprooted by new research?

At Packback, we believe curiosity is the most valuable quality a student can gain in college. We believe cultivating curiosity starts by simply giving people a safe place to ask questions. No one can ask the “right” questions if they’re too worried about speaking up in a crowded lecture hall to ask anything at all.

That’s why we created Packback Questions. It’s a safe space where students can speculate about the future, question the present, and reflect on the past…alongside today’s professors and tomorrow’s innovators.

Visit https://www.packback.co/questions to learn more about Packback Questions and discover the types of discussions students and professors are having because curiosity might start with a question, but it’s people and their perspectives that fuel it.

And for more on Klosterman’s new book, check out But What If We’re Wrong? on Amazon.