Framing better questions is the first step to get better answers. But what leads us to frame better questions? IGNORANCE, says Stuart Firestein in his book ‘Ignorance: How it drives Science’. Ignorance in this context is not stubborn stupidity or being indifferent to facts and logic in an immature way; it is about good ignorance – ignorance that comes after knowledge, ignorance due to absence of facts, understanding or insight, ignorance due to absence of clarity of something. While Firestein has written this delightful book to show how scientists depend on ignorance, the book doesn’t have scientific jargon making it an easy read for non-scientists from different walks of life.
“What happens if I do X? When does X happen? Why does X happen?” are some of the questions we ask as testers to get more answers, to discover more about the product we are testing. By questioning the available facts (e.g. specification/requirements of a project), we aim to learn something new about the product. Learning helps us discover new features of the product, discover what we may not know or yet need to learn. So it may be right to say that this newly acquired knowledge about the product has expanded our ignorance horizon. So, what happens with increased ignorance? More questioning, experimentation and discovery of facts…
Can facts that are discovered retard progress in any way? “Really successful facts have a tendency to become impregnable to revision” says Firestein providing a word of caution about the dark side of knowledge. We should be careful about not letting knowledge stand in the way of ignorance. He talks about the number of neurons and glial cells in human brain being picked up and passed around by text book writers. The number was wrong but had become true as a result of repetition and not experiment. This is a good learning for us to revisit settled questions, remain curious and use ignorance consciously/unconsciously to avoid any kind of stagnation. Boundaries of our product knowledge should constantly be challenged with informed ignorance by using the latter as a tool.
The book is full of quotable witty remarks and thought-provoking statements. I enjoyed the first half of the book since it helped me reflect on my own approach to thinking with a different perspective from a software tester’s point of view.
- The Power of Ignorance by Patrick Prill
- Ignorance: How it drives Science by Stuart Firestein (My favourite extracts from the book can be found in this mindmap)
- Accepting ignorance – The force of a good tester by Patrick Prill