There are these colloquium lectures organized by our college at regular intervals which I try to attend, with much curiosity. The lecturer/panel delivers the talk and a question & answer session follows – the interactive part of the session.
I also try to ask questions in these sessions. However, it is difficult for the hosts to accommodate all the questions, from the large number of people who raise hands for that opportunity after the lecture and after each question is answered from the dais. What I find very interesting is the way the people who ask questions are chosen.
Suppose the hall is organized into three blocks of seats. What I have often observed is that one person is chosen from each block successively. Then if time permits, a person is chosen from the front/back/middle of the hall, depending on where the previous questions and especially the last did not come from. Sometimes, the speaker insists on having a male-female alternation, which is rare.
The people who actually get the microphone to ask a question are often flocked by other ‘aspirants’, who almost never get the chance to ask (sometimes they do if they can snatch the microphone from the previous person after s/he’s done). This has happened to me too sometimes (I try to get the microphone immediately after my neighbor has asked the question – often this doesn’t work as I have to yield to the politeness of volunteers). Sometimes, no person in my vicinity gets an opportunity to ask a question. That’s when I feel very little regret but the process seems unfair. However, when someone in my vicinity does get to ask (and I don’t) I feel more regret – because my neighbor who got the opportunity could just have been me. However, it doesn’t seem to be unfair to me.
Recently, I read about the work of Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky – behavioral scientists who have explored the quirks of human thinking. They set out a theory of regret.
The researchers write, ‘the general point is that the same state of affairs (objectively) can be experienced with very different degrees of misery’, depending on how easy it is to imagine that things might have turned out differently.
Logically, the odds of getting an opportunity to ask increases only slightly as the number of persons who haven’t asked a question decrease one by one…no matter my location in the crowd. However, the further I am from the chosen person, the less regret I feel. There is that sense of having come closer to getting that opportunity when my neighbor gets an opportunity.
When I can observe that not all areas of the hall have been covered, I feel that the process is unfair. Especially so, if no one from my vicinity gets an opportunity.
I wonder if I get fooled by my feeling of having come close. I wonder how the way of choosing questioners can be made fairer, or is that just a stupid ask?