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Curator's Corner: Questions Without Answers

Curator's Corner: Questions Without Answers

What do humans have in common with most cockatiels? We are two of the few species on the planet that can actually keep a beat. The "I Gotta Dance" collection of videos explores the rhythm-thumping movements of cockatiels, sea lions and humans. (Amy Snyder/Exploratorium)


TRBQ stands for The Really Big Questions. I mean big. The kind of questions that keep us up at night. The kind of questions that we try to answer with poems, songs, paintings, and literature. Questions like: What is this thing called love? Why does music move us? Why do we tell stories? These sixty-four-dollar questions are at the heart of an exhibition the Exploratorium created in collaboration with Oakland-based SoundVision Productions. Inspired by a series of radio programs by the same name, the exhibition opens on June 19 at the Exploratorium.

The Exploratorium has always been a place that explores some of the tougher questions that plague us. What is memory? What is normal? What is the big deal about size and scale? Why do we see what we see? How does our hearing work? Why are some people color blind? What is a gastropod?  And what is a gaseous cloud?

And now we are graduating to some of the toughest of the tough of questions. As the director of this effort, I was relieved to realize we didn’t have to actually answer these questions. After all, if Plato, Lao Tzu, and Maya Angelou couldn't answer them to everyone’s satisfaction, how could we?

In creating this exhibition, we had the advantage of talking to the experts that the TRBQ radio program utilized. You can listen to the podcasts here. They consist of interviews with an amazing amount of people, including neuroresearchers, psychologists, and authors, all of whom spoke eloquently about these questions from the point of view of their own fields.

But in the end, we weren’t looking for answers. Our goal is to act as a catalyst for conversation-- to try to get people to talk to each other about these very difficult questions. Maybe you can help answer them for us.

Curious about some of research that informed and inspired this exhibition? 

Check out this TED Talk where biological anthropologist Helen Fisher talks about the brain in love. 

Tune in to this podcast where author and playwright Anne Bogart reveals how dangerous storytelling can be.

Listen to this segment with the Harlem gospel band Sons of Thunder“Tie is wet, shirt is wet, even my socks are wet,” says band director Elder Edward Babb. That’s how much passion they pour into their music!