Living the Questions: Why is the sky blue?

xkcd: Sky Color

This is partly an excuse to feature an xkcd cartoon, going some way towards answering the question. But it is really about why we stop asking why.

The cartoon science mom (it’s a US blog) could probably identify with those parents driven up the wall by their children:

But why…?
But why…?

Now children don’t usually ask so many questions in order to exasperate their parents. So why do they?

I’m no expert, but a bit of googling suggests: they are gathering knowledge, trying to get at explanations and the truth about things; their minds are expanding quickly; it is one of the most important strategies they have for connecting with their caregivers; they are actively learning about their world, and starting to understand that there’s a reason for almost everything (recent work has suggested that children can grasp causality from as early as age 3); sheer curiosity; and how after all are they going to know unless they ask? Because that is why ALL of us ask questions.

Unfortunately, most of the questions we ask are no longer why? but where? who? how? what? and most perniciously when? (Actually, how? is not too bad.) Even worse, some of us may have stopped asking questions altogether.

Maybe we no longer have the time, or the curiosity or the sense of wonder. Or we have become cynical and are pretending we are all grown-up. Maybe gathering knowledge and making connections are no longer fun, or are seen as the province of geeks. But any good scientist, any creative person, anyone serious about personal growth or making the world a better place… never stops asking why. And why not you and me?

One of our TEDxExeter 2013 speakers is Camilla Hampshire from RAMM, the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter. If you have got out of the habit of asking why, and you have a child to hand, why not research the questions you don’t know how to answer together? RAMM might be a good place to start. If you are feeling adventurous, you don’t even need a child.

The sky behind all those clouds isn’t always blue, of course. There can be various explanations for other colours, such as air pollution or dust storms like this amazing storm in Sydney in 2009. And as with many old sayings, there is also some truth in:

Red sky at night, shepherd’s delight,
Red sky in morning, shepherd’s warning.

Find out why.