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The Tinkered Mind
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December 30th, 2018
“Do you think animals ask questions?”
Lucilius looked up from his meal and looked at his good friend who had asked the question.
“I don’t know,” Lucilius said, “I’d never really thought about it.”
“I know that you can teach an ape sign language but the ape’ll never use the language to ask a question.”
“Strange,” Lucilius said, “I wonder if trainers have to instruct all the words, or if the ape can even ask how to sign something like a banana?”
“I don’t know,” Lucilius’ friend responded. “Curious.”
That night Lucilius had a dream where he spent an eternity compiling all of the questions into a single place. In the dream Lucilius was writing in it right up until the very end of time, streaming every nuanced forking ponderance of advanced AI’s as they cracked open black holes, searching for every last little piece of knowledge about the universe.
Lucilius woke up and laid in bed a moment pondering this catalogue of questions. He wondered about all the questions he had asked during his time alive and for the first time wondered about the quality of questions he had been asking.
Certainly there were countless ways to ask the same question and poke at the same unknown sentiment, but were there perhaps better quality questions?
As has always been said, no question is a bad question, but that had never ruled out the fact that some questions are certainly better than others.
Without getting out of bed Lucilius picked up a small notebook on his bedside table and opened it to the first blank page. He wrote at the top ‘Catalogue Q’, and resolved to try and live the next year of his life through a search for better questions, by cataloging them, analyzing them, and honing them.
In the beginning Lucilius thought he was making much headway with his life: breaking down problems into finer and finer questions that were answered more easily and for a number of months he saw an immense improvement in his productivity and progress.
But after a while, as he began to curiously look back on his pages of questions through a sense of pride for carrying out the small experiment, he started looking at his answered questions differently. Time and space from the older questions gave him a new perspective and he started to see the answers he had found to these questions as stale, but also itching in a strange way. Naturally, a question popped into his mind as a way of testing and ultimately splitting the answers he had found. He flipped back to a blank page and began to write more questions based on the older ones he thought he had laid to rest. He wrote feverishly until he had reworded most all the questions he had come up with during the experiment, and then he settled down upon the core problem. He sat back from his catalogue and mused aloud:
“To wonder is a kind of question. Or to imagine, or dream. It’s all a kind of question about reality. But to take any kind of next step on what we might wonder or imagine or dream requires honing down that vague question into something more specific, something concrete with which we can test reality with.”
He paused, wondering more.
“But any kind of answer we might find to any question we ask really just improves what we know about reality, and so it changes the sort of mental environment in which we can imagine and dream up possibilities. It goes back and forth.”
Years later when Lucilius’ Godson was an adolescent, he sought advice from his godfather. He called him up and complained about a lack of motivation, a feeling of aimlessness and purposelessness.
“How,” he asked his godfather, “can I get moving?”
“Answers exist between questions,” Lucilius told the boy.
“That’s your answer to my question?”
“Yes, but what does it tell you is next after this answer?”
“Another question?” the boy queried.
“You got it,” Lucilius said, “time to ask yourself a better question.”