I just heard that the average child asks 144 questions a day. It’s a good day when I ask a question. Have you asked a question today? My girlfriend, not to long ago, called me a question mark. It seems that I can’t help but ask questions.
My Maxim – The Only Good Answer Is One That Leads To Another Question
(This is actually considered a virtue in science.)
(The only qualm I have with this quote is Voltaire’s use of man. I would change it to person.)
You might have heard that humans are defined by being bipedal, a tool-maker, using language, or being self-conscious. I would define humans, at least partially, as the questioner. This was part of a trichotomy including humans as spiritual beings and sensing, feeling, intuitive beings. I defined spiritual as the search for order. This would not satisfy most people who would consider themselves as spiritual, seeing that a belief (which I do not share) in god would almost certainly be included. The sensing, feeling, intuitive part is just a probable cascade: we sense, a feeling developments, and finally an intuition appears in our consciousness. The defining of humans, though, is a hopeless task. I would agree that humans have many natures as Paul Ehrlich has described in his book Human Natures.
The problem with any definition of humans is that on observation they do not seem exclusive, which is usually the point to the definition in the first place. Look at some of these definitions. Bipedalism is shared with birds. Chimpanzees, as well as other animals use tools. While a fully developed language is found in no other animal, there are animals which communicate with signs (e.g. vervet monkeys’ warning calls). And, although disputed, some great apes have learned a rudimentary form of language, learning how to use symbols at the very least. Self-consciousness is now also considered to be non-exclusive. It has been thought to have been observed in chimpanzees and elephants in mirror experiments. I think that an expanded range of animals having self-consciousness can be entertained and will be addressed in a future blog.
Even, my once prized definition of humans as the questioner I would now consider as non-exclusive as well. Observing other animals I think can establish the plausibility of this expansion. For instance, I observed my cat, Baxter, trying to navigate around a box of tissues on the coffee table. He would place a paw here and withdraw it, then again in another place. Certainly Baxter does not use language, but each placement of his paw could be construed as a question. Anthropomorphizing, “Can I place my paw here? What about over here? Will this set of actions get me pasted the box?” This approach to understanding behavior, any behavior, not just animal behavior, is what the philosopher Daniel Dennett calls the intentional stance, which Richard Dawkins used to perfection with his metaphor of the selfish gene. This metaphor has been of great use in understanding evolution.
From the ubiquitous “why” of the child to the meticulous question of a scientist, questions play a very important role in the lives of humans. They certainly play a huge role in my life. From the “simple” question, “What’s for dinner?” to the more “important” one “is this product safe to use?”, my life is full of questions, as I am sure your life is too.
My love of asking questions, along with a developing love of writing, has led me to attempt to write and post a blog each month. Some of these questions might be:
Is Life a Puzzle?
If Nobody Opens a Book, Does It Say Anything?
Can You Color Yourself Healthy?
If a Quantum Event Needs No Cause, Why Would the Universe Need One?
Can You Use the Scientific Method to Cook an Egg?
Does Every Virtue Have a Mean?
Was Mark Twain Right About Cats & “Men”?
Metaphorically Speaking, Is Thinking Exercise?
“What’s That Doing There?“ asked the Cat.
What Fence Are You Sitting On?
Whether or not I actually post one blog a month, you should find at least the occasional blog. While the blog might start with a question, the real purpose of the blogs is to explore an idea or set of ideas. Matter of fact, it is likely that I will drift off topic anyway. The important thing is to have a mental adventure, and hopefully getting you to come along, or to start one of your own.
Note: Exact references will not usually be given, especially of things I have read in the past. I will try to provide the source of an idea, such as the reference to Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins. If you desire the actual bibliographic citation, if you ask me, I will do my best to supply it.