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Monday, 19 March 2018

Why do we ask Why questions?

Sometimes, you see an article and you immediately know that you want to read it: "Why children ask ‘Why?’ and what makes a good explanation". This 2017 Aeon article is written by Dr. Matteo Colombo, assistant professor in Philosophy at Tilburg University in the Netherlands.

Actually, I had never ever thought about why people ask the Why question. Asking a Why question had always felt totally logical and natural to me. Usually, my main worry is how long I should keep on asking this Why question, before people finally tell me the truth. Each answer to a Why question often reveals one of the various defence layers.

Questions and answers - or more general: events - usually have a causal effect: one type of event (eg, answer, consequence) explains another previous type of event (eg, cause, question). The philosophy of causation originates from David Hume (1711-1776). Britannica: "This doctrine was given more rigorous expression by the logical positivist Carl [Gustav] Hempel (1905–1997)."

The 2017 Aeon article mentions the 3 main causation models: (i) Carl Hempel's covering-law model, (ii) the unificationist model, and (iii) David Hume's original causal mechanical model. Aeon-2017: "Newton’s theory of gravity and Darwin’s theory of evolution are lovely explanations [of the unificationist model] because they enjoy a great unifying power".

Essentially, asking the Why question is finding out about the possible existence of causality, which is "the natural or worldly agency or efficacy that connects one process (the cause) with another process or state (the effect), where the first is partly responsible for the second, and the second is partly dependent on the first" (Wiki).

The existence of causality is in the human interest for learning purposes as causality has a predictive nature. Causes that are repeating in Life/Nature are far more interesting than incidental ones. Why bother remembering incidental causes that have no repetitive character? Finding out about the Why question clearly has an added value or benefit to humans.

Perhaps, the Why question is important in my life because I have been in auditing for a long time. Asking the Why question was important to me in case I felt a missing causal nature between business operations and financial statements. My mind developed a "should be" (or SOLL position) based on business operations, and the actual (or IST position) in the financial statements should not deviate beyond (my) expectation levels.

Given our fundamental human disbelief (see my 2018 blog) in our cognitive functions, the Why question also makes sense in order not to be fooled by another human being. Asking the Why question is (probably) part of the survival of the fittest, "a phrase that originated from Darwinian evolutionary theory as a way of describing the mechanism of natural selection" (Wiki).

Why tell me why (1981) by Brace covering a classic Dutch Anita Meyer song


Note: all bold and italic markings by LO unless stated otherwise