Progress and Musings

Regarding Questions that Matter

Written By: Jonathan White - Jan• 24•13

In Overcoming Bias, Robin writes about the “sweet thirst-quenching fount of progress”, but he fails to define what is good. Because of that, he is led to two erroneous conclusions: 1) Only interesting questions can matter; 2) All that matters is progress.

Let me offer a counterexample which addresses both these: Let us start with a definition of good which is ingrained in any baby. Life is good. Death is bad. Thus, a baby’s cry of hunger is really a statement and a question: “My life matters to me. Does my life matter to anyone else?” No one would vote-up a recording of the cry of a baby on Quora — not only is it uninteresting, but it is actually painful to listen to. And if someone did vote it up, what could possibly be the progress on the answer. The bulk of life throughout time has answered with the affirmative “Yes.” But, if all must be sacrificed to the “sweet thirst-quenching fount of progress,” then to progress from “Yes” to “No”, we must unlearn the definition of good. We would have progress, but life itself would cease.

Robin laments that not enough questioners ask why an answer matters. I’d like to posit that the questioners don’t ask why, because subconsciously they already know the answer. They fully believe that the world will be “more good” with the answer than without. The question for all of us to ask is what is good and who is it good for? Only with this standard will we be able to say if a question is worth answering.

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