The late great scientist Carl Sagan once wrote about how he often gets letters from cranks who claim to have been abducted by aliens and have since remained in contact with them. Many of these letters ask Sagan if he’d like to send in any questions he would like relayed to these aliens. Presumably these would be the hard questions about the big mysteries that an advanced intelligence would be able to shed some light on. Being the good man that he is, Sagan would often oblige and over the years he accumulated a list of questions he actually would ask aliens of advanced intelligence if he got the chance.
One thing Sagan found was that when he sent back questions that require conventional “moral judgments” such as “Should we be good?” he’d often get a quick reply from the cranks. However, when Sagan sent back questions such as “Could you provide a short proof for Fermat’s Theorem or the Goldback Conjecture?”, he’d get nothing back. Fermat’s Theorem and the Goldback Conjecture are mathematical propositions that look right but so far haven’t been proven to be true. Their solutions are monstrously complex and abstract and have so far eluded the grasp of even the most brilliant mathematical minds (though if I recall right, the Fermat Theorem had already been proven recently).
In short when Sagan sent the sort of questions that require a specific response that befits a life form presumably possessing knowledge and intelligence well beyond ours (or at least at the level of the most brilliant specimens of our species), all he got for his trouble was silence.
Coming up with good questions requires hard thinking. As such, there is something to be said about the sorts of questions we ask of our politicians and the sorts of challenges we take them to task for that affords them the luxury to come back to us with mere platitudes and nebulous pronouncements. Do we ask them questions that require responses befittings a person truly qualified to be President of our sad republic?
Take the campaign slogan of popular presidential candidate Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III — Hindi ako magnanakaw (“I will not steal”). That is clearly a response to the sorts of questions that are akin to Sagan’s glib question “Should we be good?”. A crank of the sort who sends letters containing stories of alien abduction could answer them. Political cranks posing as “presidentiables” who claim to have a hotline to the gods (in whatever shape, form colour or hand gesture they happen to take) can too. It’s called Emo Politics, and those who have the pedigrees to mount campaigns on such politics will attest to its effectiveness in capturing the atrophied imagination faculties of Da Pinoy Mind.
The brilliant Carl Sagan sees questions relating to things like the Fermat’s Theorems and Goldback Conjectures of his space as ones that are worthy of the attention of a superior intelligence. What sorts of questions does the truly astute Filipino Voter consider to fit what a truly serious presidential aspirant expects to be thrown at him? If you ask me, it would be questions that demand specific responses around (1) what he envisions the Philippines to be looking like by the time he steps down in 2016, and (2) how he plans to take us there — the sorts of questions we’ve been fielding since mid 2009. Considering that certain politicians have decided to shun debates altogether, the prospects of getting a truly intelligent response becomes less promising.
Kick a pig and you will hear a squeal. Try to ask it how it feels and you will get silence.
If you are a media person who presumes to “grill” politicians, think twice. The sorts of questions you field will tell us a lot about what’s between your ears.