· Vatican City ·

In search of the right questions

 In search of the right questions  ING-022
31 May 2024

“And now ask me some questions”. In a world that erratically seeks answers to everything, Pope Francis is once again teaching us the value of questions, the fruitfulness of doubt when it is open to an honest search for the truth, the good and the beautiful. In his recent encounters, especially with young people as we saw in these last few weeks and on World Children’s Day, the Pontiff has increasingly set aside his prepared texts and entered into dialogue with those before him. He prefers to take a “risk”, to communicate in a way that is free and spontaneous, as all authentic relationships between people should be.

After all, he has often highlighted that in order to communicate, one must meet the other’s gaze, see their face, which cannot happen if one’s gaze is fixed on a sheet of paper. This focus on questions when communicating, on listening rather than answering, also has pedagogical significance. Pope Francis, a Jesuit and an educator, undoubtedly learned this as a young man, drawing on Ignatian spirituality, in which discernment — asking the deeper questions — is fundamental, and which continues to inspire people even beyond the Society of Jesus.

Questions are often uncomfortable, as we experience daily, especially when children, who have no filters and preconceptions, are the ones asking them. In 1985, the great philosopher, Karl Popper, said that our pedagogy consists in providing children with answers to questions they do not ask and not listening to the questions they do ask. Forty years later, contemporary man is increasingly exhausted by lack of time (wasn’t technology supposed to “buy” us more free time?) and he thus seems to be bothered by questions that force him to stop and think. At the same, paradoxically, man has never addressed so many questions to machines, to computers, as today.

Google’s search engine receives 99,000 questions per second — that’s 8.5 billion searches every 24 hours. But how many of these questions express a search for meaning? Are they not more like conditioned reflexes, almost automatic questions? The data suggests the second option is more likely the case, if it is true that among the five most popular searches on Google in the first months of 2024 were the following: What time is it? How many weeks are there in one year? How many days until Christmas?

In this context, the new extraordinary reality of Artificial Intelligence puts us before an anthropological challenge, even before the technological one. We are faced with the question of dialogue, which is essential to human nature, in a new form that opens horizons onto unexpected developments. Asking questions and receiving answers is part of being human. It is how man developed each stage of his life on earth and his coexistence with others. And it is in this same way, in dialogue, asking questions and receiving answers, that man grows in his knowledge of the Creator, as the Bible says from the very beginning. This is why it is especially significant that the Pope will participate in the G7 Summit on Artificial Intelligence in Puglia. Participants will seek to answer pragmatic questions, but Pope Francis will have an opportunity to ask meaningful questions. Without these questions, it is unlikely that solutions can be found which are both lasting and fair to all, no one excluded. (A. Gisotti)

Alessandro Gisotti