One of the best part of being a teacher is that I have to be ready to answer questions all the time. At times the questions are tough and the answers not known, which in turn requires, thinking, reading, web surfing and discussions, making me learn all the time. Often my students have come up with novel ideas and helped me get better insights. One of the things I tell my students at the start of a course is to stop me and ask a question if they don’t follow, as, such a question would help me identify a problem area and also help several other students who are either shy, introvert, or have not thought about it.
While all of the above is something most of the teachers would do, my perspective has come with my set of stories and experience, which I share here.
One of the stories that has made a big impact on me is that of Issac Newton. After his particle theory of light was criticized by fellow physicists, and evidence of interference was given by Huygen, he became very depressed, gave up physics and started trying to implement alchemy. It was a question from Edmond Halley about the path of the comet that brought him out of his depression, back to his study of dynamics and towards his masterpiece principia. It moves me deeply to think that neither Newton, nor Huygen knew that both their contrary view-points of theory of light were valid. That wave-particle duality holds, for not only light, but all sorts of sub-atomic particles, is now common knowledge.
Another story that amazes and entertains me is that of Erwin Schrodinger. After Schrodinger’s talk on Louis de Broglie’s wave particle theory, Debye asked him, “If particles behave like waves, where is the wave equation ?”. Since there was none, Schrodinger worked on the theory and came up with his equation, which has now become foundation of many more successful theories.
Yossarian, the forever questioning soldier of “Catch 22” is my hero. The sentence “Yossarian lives on” fills me up with hope, even when handling crooked situations. The major reason that I like mythological stories and Bhagvad Geeta, even though I am an atheist, is that they celebrate questions (Arjuna and Nachiketa) and often involve interesting logical structures.
But let me end this blog with a personal story. Years ago, the day after my son’s birth, the nurse had told me all was well and I shall be able to go home that evening, Hence when the doctor came for his morning round, there was not much on my mind. Mostly out of idle curiosity, I asked him if he knew what my son’s blood group was. He looked at his records and said he did not know. (Though I was not really thinking about it, there was a history behind my question. As I and my husband have different blood groups, one Rh-positive and the other negative, the doctors had advised precautions and administered RhoGAM injections. Since there was no complication, it was out of my mind.) An hour later my son’s crib was rolled out for some tests and after some more time, to my shock and disbelief, we were informed that my son had jaundice and he needed photo-therapy. We were not to leave the hospital for four more days.
An old friend of mine who has trained as a nurse and was with me at that time, explained to me that infant jaundice is not the usual jaundice that one sees in adults, but I thought she was just trying to pacify me and my worries did not abate. Anyway, my son was given photo-therapy, we went home and carried on with life. After getting back home I went to my friend google, searched the web and found that one of the reasons of infant jaundice is difference of blood-group of parents. In such a case the baby has excess bilirubin, which does not get processed effectively. If untreated it may interfere with nerve growth, giving rise to ticks and in serious cases, brain damage. I would have given away my right hand to save my child from such a health issue, but I didn’t need to. All that was required was a simple idle question!
Now of-course all the above are events as per my perspective, which may not be the same as reality, but I like to think that in each of those situations, it was a single question that brought about a big change.
So, but for the rare case where I feel someone is just trying to annoy me (may be trying to get a quote out of me for their T-Shirt competition ?) or being lazy, I am always ready to answer questions and to discuss.