In a scene towards the beginning of the movie “I, Robot”, we find homicide detective Spooner (played by Will Smith) interviewing his dead friend, Dr. Lanning, via a pre-recorded holographic suicide note. As Spooner queries the deceased, he several times is rebutted with the words, “I’m sorry, my responses are limited. You must ask the right questions.”
This makes sense – after all, a holographic message of this sort would be reasonably limited by the amount of answers programmed into it, and thus by nature unable to address every possible query. But here’s the thing: when detective Spooner asks the hologram recording of his dead friend, “Why would you kill yourself?”, the doctor responds with the words, “That, detective, is the right question.” The program is then terminated and the hologram shuts down.*
Enigmatic? Sure. And this is what sets up the drama and intrigue for the rest of the movie’s plot.
I see something being taught here – implicitly maybe, but taught all the same – that is worth learning for all of us. It all comes down to a phrase I’m fond of repeating:
“Smart people know the right answers. Geniuses know the right questions.” **
Think about it this way: answers require questions. No answer can be given to a question that is not asked. You might know the right answers to some questions inside and out, but unless you ask the right questions you will never know any more. You will never grow in wisdom or intelligence, and will always be limited to the same answers as before.
Questions, on the other hand, do not require answers, but can (and most often do) lead to them. Thus the case in “I, Robot”, where the goal of the doctor was to get Spooner asking the questions he would have to ask in order to arrive at an answer he didn’t even know he needed.
But maybe that doesn’t make adequate sense, so let me provide a real-world example.
When I was in my senior year of college, I was student body president of the College of Allied Health at my university. I knew a tremendous amount of answers – answers to things like, “where does the money budgeted for activities go?”, “who do I talk to to get my parking pass approved?”, “when does the executive council meet?”, etc. But come November, I was surprised to find out that the Student Association that I was chief officer for was supposed to organize a charity event/holiday party for area children, and I was the liaison between the faculty and the students for putting it all together.
Talk about shock, this certainly came as a surprise. I hadn’t known that answer. Reason being, I hadn’t thought to ask the question: “Are there any scheduled events that the Student Association needs to be aware of coming up this year which I should prepare for?” As intelligent as I was supposed to be, I hadn’t risen to the genius level of asking the right question. I hadn’t even known I needed an answer to that question, much less what that answer was.
The reason this topic is important for Christians is this: we need to make sure that, as we live our lives on this fallen earth, we are discerning appropriately the things we are being taught. Folks, there are churches out there with very poisonous doctrine, and the intelligent among you will learn the answers they give you (oh, they’re full of information, even if it’s bull) backwards and forwards. But the geniuses among you will stop and ask the question: is this in accord with sound, Biblical teaching?
(And actually, you should be asking that every time you read one of my posts, as well. Just for the record.)
*Watch the scene here (you’ll have to fast forward to 09:30 minutes)
**This is nowhere more comically demonstrated than by King Arthur on the “Bridge of Death“.