KO Questions

It’s always interesting to see how some difficult seemingly impossible questions are answered – I don’t mean puzzles, puns or riddles. Like the one that went like ‘How many dentists are there in city x?’ in the book Freakanomics.

Today there was one such query and a response in the mail that also brought to my mind another story of a different kind, a parable. Sharing them both starting with the parable:


There was a wise man who had come from far into the village. Everyone in the village went to him for his advice on his/her problems in life.

A prankster kid decided to play on the wise man.

He caught and held a tiny bird in his hand and went to the wise man.

Putting out his hands, both closed, he said: ‘Sir, there’s a bird in one of my hands. Please tell me if it’s alive or dead.’

If the wise man said ‘alive’, the boy would simply crush the bird and show it to be dead. If it was said to be ‘dead’ he would simply open his hand and let the bird fly away. Either way, the wise man would be wrong.

The wise man looked at the kid for a moment and smiled. And said:

‘Well, I cannot tell you which of the two hands holds the bird. But this much, yes…’ he paused.

The kid was beset with excitement and curiosity to hear the wise man go on to fail.

And so was I when I heard this story. How is he going to handle it?

The wise man said: ‘If you let it, it’ll live. And if you don’t, it wont. The answer is not with me. Like many other things in life, it is in your own hands.’

A response and its articulation – something I wouldn’t have come up with ever!


Here’s the one I got today by mail from a knowledge forum fielding questions from kids:

Question for Dr. Universe: What’s the best story ever made in the world? – From Jada, 13, New Jersey


Dear Jada,

Humans have been telling stories for thousands of years. At first, they told these stories out loud, then they started to write.

There are more than a hundred million published books on our planet now and to find out which one is best, I visited my friend Matthew Jockers. He’s a professor at Washington State University who combines his love of stories with computer science to research what makes some books bestsellers.

He uses a computer algorithm which can read a book super-fast—way faster than even the fastest reader in our world (who can read 25,000 words a minute). The algorithm is called the “bestseller-ometer,” and it pays attention to both the words and big patterns of a book.

Jockers told me that bestsellers tend to be page-turners. These books have rhythm and patterns, especially when it comes to how the writer creates and resolves conflict. These stories often have characters that get into trouble and then get out of trouble again.

We might see this kind of pattern in books like “Harry Potter” and “The Hunger Games.” These books also have a lot of cliffhangers. Still, the answer to your question goes beyond just looking at the bestseller list. We might also think about the best book in another way. Jockers said some of the best books are those that cross cultural boundaries.

There are some books that connect us no matter what language we speak or where we come from. Jockers said one of the writers who has reached readers around the globe is William Shakespeare. Shakespeare lived more than 400 years ago, but people everywhere from Japan to Germany to France to the U.S. still watch and read his plays.

The classics

We might also think about the “best” ones as the books that have stood the test of time. In this case, books that were written long ago have a better shot at taking the title of best book.

One book that was written in Ancient Greece was an adventure story called “The Odyssey.” It’s about a man who is on a journey home. People tend to like books where a hero goes on a quest and returns home, Jockers adds.

The best book might also be the one that changes the world. It might make humans think about things in new ways.

Finally, the answer to your question might just be that it’s a matter of opinion. “The best one is the one you think is the best book,” Jockers said.

Maybe you have a favorite book that you can re-read again and again. When you flip through the pages, maybe you find something new that you never noticed before.

But perhaps the best story is one that hasn’t even been told yet. Maybe, just maybe, you’ll be the one to write it.


Dr. Universe

Could it be anything but this?



Source: Dr Universe