Ill-formed questions

Assume that you get a Ph.D student who wants to do medical research. He comes to you and tells you that he wants to find out an answer to the burning question about why people get sick. Would you be able to guide this student in answering his question or give one answer to it? Your answer would be: it depends. You would also further say to him, ‘choose a particular disease, choose a particular domain and choose a particular approach within that domain, if you want to do research’. There is no ‘one answer’ to his question. As a research question, you would say it is ill-formed: you have to specify the disease, and choose whether you want to do, say, genetic research or epidemiological research or cell research or…

Thinking further along the lines of my analogy, suppose now that the student also wants to do further research into the question of how a disease spreads. What would you tell him? Drawing upon the existing knowledge, you would tell him to choose, say, between infectious and non-infectious diseases. While for the first, he could look for the vectors that carry the disease, for the second, if it involves, say metastasis as it is in the case of cancer, he has to choose between different domains and varying approaches.

Should the student be deeply disappointed that his burning questions, namely, why people get sick and how disease spreads are ‘dismissed’ by you as ill-formed questions for research? And that it is a philosophical question that is irrelevant to his quest?

If this is how it is with respect to a domain where we have a great deal of knowledge (and a greater degree of ignorance), how should it be in a domain like culture for which we do not have even a semblance of a scientific theory? That is where we are today and the problems on this forum (and elsewhere) reflect this state of affairs acutely.


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