Carl Feynman (carlf@atg.com)
Thu, 15 May 1997 20:37:42 -0400

At 07:26 PM 5/15/97 +0200, Anders Sandberg wrote:

>Here is my personal tip: whenever the child asks "why?" try to
>answer, or explain that you don't know. Always answer, or direct the
>child to an information source.

I have done my very best to answer every single question my 3 1/2 year old
daughter asks. This is surprisingly difficult, espescially since she enjoys
questioning every answer with a "why?". It runs something like this:

"Papa, what's this?"
"It's an ice cream maker."
"Because it was built to make ice cream."
"Because people want ice cream makers, so other people build them."
"Money. People who want ice-cream makers will pay money to other people to
build them."
"Oh. Let's make ice cream!"
"Not now, sweetie."
"It's almost dinnertime, and I don't want you to spoil your appetite."
"Because if you ate sweet ice cream before dinner, you wouldn't eat the
non-sweet dinner food, and you wouldn't grow up big and strong."
"Because we grow better when we eat things that aren't sweet."
"Evolution. Cave people didn't eat sweets."
"Oh. I want dinner now, so we can make ice cream right away soon!"
"Okay. Let's wash hands first."
"We always wash hands before dinner. It's a rule."
"Because if there's dirt or poo-poo on your hands, and it gets in your food,
you might get sick."
"Because there are tiny animals in dirt that sometimes grow inside people
and make them sick."
"Eeuw-yuck-pooie. Why?"

I find that these why-chains always end up at one of the following ultimate

"It's a law of physics."
"Nobody knows."
"I don't know, but <insert name> does."

Rachel doesn't really know how money, evolution, or physics work, but she's
used to the notion that they are the underlying causes of things, so later
when she learns about them, she'll have the right attitude.

I suppose what makes me an Extropian child-rearer is that I never use any of
these old standbys:

"God made it that way."
"Because I say so."
"It just is."
"You wouldn't understand."
"Good little girls don't ask so many questions."

I am willing to go over her head, if I have to, rather than leave a question
unanswered. But I've always found stuff that was over my head very
educational, so why should I deny that to her? It's amazing how she retains
stuff that must seem like random gibberish to her, only to connect it later
to something else.


PS. The why-chains last between three and six steps before grounding out in
one of the root causes. Does this tell us something about ontology,
something about epistemology, or nothing important?