Re: Why?

Anders Sandberg (
Fri, 16 May 1997 09:38:24 +0200 (MET DST)

On Thu, 15 May 1997, Carl Feynman wrote:

> 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?".

I know, I never said it would be easy. In fact, it is probably one of
the hardest things to do, especially when one is tired.

> I find that these why-chains always end up at one of the following ultimate
> answers:
> "Money."
> "Evolution."
> "It's a law of physics."
> "Chance."
> "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."

Yes, these root-causes probably reveal a lot about the parents. Shows
some of the basic assumptions of their respective world views ("final

> 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.

And she will associate the stuff with her questions, so given the
above dialogue she would now associate eating healthy food ("cave
people food") and bacteria with evolution, which later will prove to
be generally correct. It is a bit like gradually tying together a web
of interconnections.

> 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?

Hmm, in a text about creativity I found somewhere it suggested
following the why-chain for 5 steps in order to analyze a problem.
The length may depend on how large mental leaps one makes between
each step, but I wonder if that is all there is to it. In some sense
it is a reverse 20-questions game where you tend to move towards
generality rather than specificity.

Anders Sandberg Towards Ascension!
GCS/M/S/O d++ -p+ c++++ !l u+ e++ m++ s+/+ n--- h+/* f+ g+ w++ t+ r+ !y