Are we living inside a computer-generated simulation? What is consciousness? Can AI be conscious? Can we say for sure if it is or isn’t? And how does all that relate to religion?
These are all serious questions. They have no correct answer. Can you imagine reading an entire book revolving around these questions and finding it valuable without reaching a definitive conclusion? Meghan O’Gieblyn’s book God, Human, Animal, Machine is such a book. It is a beautiful text full of doubt, curiosity, question marks, and not a single exclamation mark except for the one underlying it all: “There are things we will never know!”
We tend to confuse Communication with Conveying a Message. We believe we can only participate in a discussion when we have solid ideas. We hesitate to publicly share things we are unsure of, or that leave us ambivalent. We were taught to participate when we knew the answer and maybe when we needed clarification. But taking the stage for five minutes (or an entire book) when we know we don’t have a concrete bottom line? That’s just a waste of time for everyone, so we believe. Well, we are wrong.
Generative Communication is all about co-creation, and the engine of co-creation is exploration. Of course, any discussion, debate, and challenge have their exclamation mark moments, but nothing new will ever be created if everything is known in advance. The value we bring to any discussion or thought process can be derived from uncertainty and curiosity as much as it can be derived from having a bullet-proof idea.
Exclamation marks close the door for exploration (or at least makes it much harder to explore other paths). Question marks, on the other hand, are open-ended: they invite a discussion essential for discovering new insights. When the content you share revolves around questions, it could be at least as valuable as sharing definitive knowledge and ideas. Sometimes, posing questions is a tactical move designed to encourage others to take the lead, fill the gaps, or develop alternative ideas. But it is even more interesting to talk, write, and communicate when you genuinely don’t know the answers to the questions you raise. In such cases, an honest and open discussion is established with whoever is on the other side: your colleagues at work or your audience.
Of course, for the question to promote exploration, we have to design the text with that in mind. If we drop a question out of the blue and add nothing more, it will likely have the opposite effect. People might consider the question overwhelming. Asking, “Are we living in a simulation?” and adding nothing to that question would have left readers of Meghan’s book baffled. Most of us don’t have any way to answer that question or even consider it. At least not at first. So instead, when posing this question (and other questions no less complex than this one), Meghan wisely weaves her thoughts and doubts, various opinions of other people, analogies to similar questions, and some personal stories that tie everything together. Nothing in that well-crafted text provides answers. If anything, it just raises more questions. But we, the audience, are taking this ride together with the author, and it provides us with rich and nutritious food for thought. This text doesn’t provide value by offering answers; its value is in processing the questions.
Conveying questions and not answers is probably more prevalent in texts like God, Human, Animal, Machine than it is in a work context. One might rightfully argue that in professional communication at work, we are expected to come up with solutions and not just muse over questions. However, starting with a question and being attentive to people as they process it together is an excellent way to develop innovative solutions. If you wait until you have an exclamation mark to share, you will not enjoy the value of co-creation. Apart from being an entirely different experience, co-creation is more likely to result in better solutions and create more engagement and openness to ideas.
Whether you communicate directly with colleagues or virtually with an audience, you can’t afford to be silent until you know everything. Sharing what you don’t know or are uncertain of is an honest, authentic invitation to think together. It’s more than an act of communication — it’s an act of building a relationship.