Every once in a while, we experience what, I believe, in the future, will be referred to as a "Miles" moment. You don't have to be familiar with LOST, specifically, the final episode of the most recent season, to get the point. Just picture a situation wherein the major players are all dedicated to a difficult, bizarre, or strident course of action, and are suddenly derailed by a pointed, incisive question by one member of the group, in this case the one named Miles. The moment made for a delicious few seconds of television. But it can happen in boring everyday life. A situation evolves, and suddenly someone you know asks a question that seems to throw a new light of clarity. It's been happening from time immemorial. Like the way my life hinged on the moment I dared to ask "Why couldn't a man where a woman's pants? They're hot aren't they?" But seriously.
Imagine: some activists approach a talented film maker named Doug. They ask for a donation to "fight global warming." He says, humbly, that he'll be glad to donate to their cause, if they can answer a question first. Smelling the money (activists have a special nose for that) they say "Lay it on us." Then comes the simple query: "What temperature is the earth SUPPOSED to be?" They thought about it, and then realized. They'd have to look elsewhere. For funds, if not answers.
Of course, it isn't always a happy light that comes on. I can never forget the night when, at a club where I had, with reckless abandon, danced the night away many times with my friends, I asked my sweaty self: "What is this place? What is dancing? What does this mean?" I realized I didn't get it. I couldn't dance the rest of the night. And I still don't get it. I've tried to dance since, but I can't work it like I did when I didn't know I didn't get it.
Likewise, I had never questioned the end of World War 2. The entire war is a sacred cow of sorts. And the math seemed to bear out the idea of killing a whole mess of people from one of the aggressor nations in a few seconds from hell, in order to prevent the hellishly protracted taking of even more lives on both sides. Then, in one fell swoop, the mad genius of antiwar.com asks me to ask myself "Why couldn't have Truman tested the Bomb on some deserted cay or atoll in the Pacific? Surely the level of undeniable destruction would have been enough to scare the Axis powers into submission. Did those thousands of people really need to die?" Immediately I say to myself, Of course not! That makes perfect sense! Then, Wait a minute. Then, as a whole mess of thoughts that had literally not been allowed come flooding in, I hear myself saying, Holy Crap.
The real classics are the ones that allow for intellectual evolution. Descartes' question about the tree falling in the forest gets dismissed rather too easily by most people, who answer "Who cares about a tree falling in the forest? So nobody hears it! Whatever." But I once asked some students of mine to really let themselves think about it for a week and then right a paragraph or two. One of the more brilliant girls who ever lived did just that, and answered Descartes in a way that had him smiling in his grave. "The tree never makes a sound whether you are there to 'hear' it or not," she said. "By living, it produces energy. By falling, it produces the same thing. If you happen to be present when it falls, you can interpret that energy as sound. But the tree only produces energy. You produce the interpretation."
People with those kind of answers might just continue to let themselves ask the hinge turning questions. Are you one of them? You don't have to be wearing girl pants to know.