Archive for the ‘Quora’ Category

Quora answer: Are the Tears for Fears band members existentialists?

I really don’t know about this band. But I was asked to answer so I watched the video and read the lyrics. The lyrics are more nihilistic than existentialist. Strange to say but Existentialism is about hope, at least Sartre’s version of it because it contends that each of us has absolute freedom to be who we are in a world without meaning. Nihilism is on the other hand about the loss of meaning. So Existentialism is a reaction to the nihilism inherent in the Western worldview.

Since the question has been brought up this is a good time to consider this duality between existentialism and nihilism. Nihilism results in alienation and anomie. This is because the world that we are caught up in, find ourselves sooner or later is realized to be inauthentic and a sham. This is especially true of youth when they realize the conventions of ordinary middle class society is not what they thought it was when they look under the surface. I tend to go back to the first use of the term which was in Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons ( where there is a young man who believes in Science and does not believe in the traditional mores of society. This is seen as very destructive of society by the older characters. But eventually this was radicalized by Nietzsche in to the idea that all truth is merely a lie. The basic problem was eventually seen to be with Being itself, and Existence was a concept that was not overloaded so it became the center of attention for authors like Kierkegaard, Dostoevsky, Sartre, Heidegger and other modern philosophers especially after World War II when after two World wars there was disillusionment with our claims of civilization. Given the number of wars worldwide since then and the threat of nuclear holocaust and the Cold War this view has only continued to intensify. Each generation discovers this anew for themselves as nihilism increases.

But Existentialism at least as seen by Sartre was thought to be an antidote for this. In other words if you realize that everything is meaningless and that alienation is the rule, then there is nothing to tie you to a given interpretation of the world, and therefore you are free to remake yourself as you see fit and manufacture meaning in your own life. Since Nihilism is directly related to Being, it is felt that by stepping outside of the influence of Being it might be possible to reverse the essence precedes existence orientation and instead realize that existence precedes essence. It merely says that you have to exist before you can be something. It recognizes that existence is more basic than Being. I have recounted the relation between Being and Existence in other posts. So I won’g recount that again here.

It is easy for youth to feel hopeless once they realize that the world they are in is inauthentic and conventional, and there seems to be no way out. However, this is extremely unfortunate for them and for society, and this feeling is picked up and amplified by the media, and songs like this.

So what is the answer. It is unfortunate that rebellion of youth is almost always negative and self destructive. It is possible also to rebel positively, i.e. by tenaciously and with perseverance doing what you can to change your world, even though that is for most of us close to impossible. Yet the valiant attempt produces a life worth living and meaning in ones life, and virtue, i.e. the opposite of Nihilism. Early on Nietzsche called these people Free Spirits, that is people who create their own values. There are people who do this and they are usually called Activists.  And of course these activists, like Greg Mortinson ( for instance, all pick something different to change in the world, and set about it single handedly and dedicate their lives to the effort. So the variety of the attempts to change things is bewildering, and most fail to change anything at all, but their cause, what ever it is keeps them going in the face of the disaster that is the world and also generates meaning for others in the face of nihilism.

But how do we get youth to rebel in a positive way rather than a negative way, when each person is isolated in their own world with family, school, friends and where what society is pushing is alcohol, drugs, mindless entertainment, negative messages in music and pop culture about the meaninglessness of life, and how suicide is the only out like the example given here in this question. Occupy Wallstreet seems to be an answer. It was just an idea that came out of nowhere and caught on. Perhaps we can move on from occupying the empty places in our society adjacent to the centers of power and injustice, to actually dwelling in the world in a way that transforms it. This thing normally fizzles out, but it is almost enough to give us hope that the transformative power of youth rebellion might be brought to bear on our most pressing problems, and at the same time generate meaning to counter the pervasive nihilism in youth culture.

TS Eliot said it all in the Wasteland concerning the nihilism we are experiencing in the world. But then he wrote Four Quartets that searches for an answer to that despair. We all need to write our own Four Quartets, where we reach back into our own history for the resources to go on in the face of the pervasive nihilism we experience to create our own meaning as free spirits and to weave that together with the meaning created by others until the fabric gives us a world worth living in so that dreams of suicide are not our best moments.


Quora answer: What’s so special about philosophers like Kant, Wittgenstein, and Nietzsche?

Who said Wittgenstein is all that great. Putting him between Kant and Nietzsche is a sacrilege from the view point of Continental Philosophy, Hegel belongs there. Wittgenstein is just the nihilistic opposite of Heidegger according to Stanley Rosen in Nihilism. My view is that all Western Philosophers are Sophists in Plato’s sense of the word, even Plato with the puppet he manipulates called Socrates on his hand. In the end you cannot distinguish between Socrates and the Sophists which he is at war with. It is ultimately impossible to make a non-nihilistic distinction here because saying they are foreign and take money to talk to you like modern psychotherapists just begs the question. If their ideas seem simple to you I suggest you try Hegel on for size. Hegel who was misplaced in your series. (Cf. Deleuze The Logic of Sense) Hegel understood everything about the Western worldview, and Blake saw it in a Vision. Nietzsche is just cleaning up after the master sculpture has done his work. Wittgenstein and Heidegger are setting on the side lines watching. While Kant is desperately trying to save the paradise of Reason in the Enlightenment which has not broken down into the Terror that Hegel will see as yet. Nietzsche merely sums up and shows us that madness is coming, called the Twentieth Century with Three World Wars, two hot and one cold.

Quora answer: What are the most interesting ideas in Kant’s book The Critique of Pure Reason?

I have been listening to the Bernstein Tapes ( which are lectures on Critique of Pure Reason after previously listening to his Hegelian lectures. His Hegelian lectures allowed me my first real access to Hegel’s Phenomenology of Mind/Ghost/Spirit for the first time. I have spent a lifetime stating and failing to finish that book. Bernstein says it is the most complex book in Western philosophy, and I just could not get through it myself on my own, even though I managed to do so with many other long complicated and abstruse philosophical classics previously. I figured if Bernstein could finally give me access to Hegel in a way that made sense to me, then he might also have some things to say about Kant that would help me understand Critique of Pure Reason. To me one of the most interesting parts of Western Philosophy is Heidegger’s attempt to appropriate Kant, to his philosophy. It is interesting that the key word for Heidegger is Ereignis which has one meaning that is Appropriation, because Heidegger is famous for appropriating other philosophers to his own thought, like Aristotle, the Pre-socratics, Husserl’s later work (where appropriation here is tantamount to stealing). So listening to these lectures on Kant gave me a new appreciation for his thought. I kept worrying that my understanding of Kant would be wrong, but in the end it was merely greatly enhanced. I had a good idea of the Architectonic of Kant’s philosophy, but I did not really understand how important the arguments were in the book until I listened to these lectures. And without command of the arguments then one’s understanding remains very superficial, whereas from reading other commentaries I had the idea that the arguments were not really very important. That is because most authors attribute to Kant what Bernstein calls a progressive reading, i.e. assuming that Kant is claiming more than he has a right to claim, and then blaming him for not succeeding, and then subsituting their own thought for that of Kant. So Kant just is a jumping off point for their own ideas, which normally are pretty strange, and there are few attempts to try a minimal reading that tries to stay close to what Kant himself really meant, assuming that he was not claiming more than he could deliver. Bernstein calls this the regressive reading.

My own approach to philosophy is to try to understand what the philosopher himself had in mind before placing my own projections on their philosophy. I think this is a minimal threshold of intellectual honesty. And then one should always differentiate ones own thought from those of the philosopher one is basing what one is saying upon. I like to try to use other philosophies as a whole without appropriating them to my own philosophy. Because my greatest interest is in the differences between philosophers rather than subsuming them to my philosophy, or one philosophers ideas to another. Of course, this is very hard because it is almost impossible not to misunderstand the precursors. We have this map of misreading as Bloom says. For instance how Marx misread Hegel for instance, perfect example of a dumbed down reading of Hegel which some people really want.

So from Bernstein’s presentation I learned that the arguments themselves have substance. When commentators over claim what Kant is trying to achieve, and then point out how he fails, then one tends to discount the arguments, and concentrate on the architecture of his thought, because that is not affected by the discounted arguments. But Bernstein concentrates on the arguments and brings out their substance and shows how they are still relevant in light of his regressive reading.

So from Bersteins view point the major idea in Kant is that the only way to be a Transcendental Realist is via Transcendental Idealism, and thus realism is dependent on idealism. And that is why our tradition turned toward idealism and away from either rationalism or empiricism. This essentially makes Kant primarily into a precursor to Husserl’s phenomenology. This for me was very good because what I have been saying for years is that Kantian transcendentalism is the basis for understanding Husserlian Phenomenology. However, this devalues the idea of transcendentals being headlands above the world as Nietzsche calls them. To the regressive reading Kant is critiquing these headlands and pulling the carpet out from under them rather than establishing them as the progressive reading would have us believe.

To me this is a very important issue. In Badiou for instance we see the use of Cohen’s approach to set theory that establishes the independence of the continuum hypothesis. Basically Badiou says that Set theory is metaphysics of Being, to which he adds the Event and Multiple to complete it and give a full fledged ontological meaning to set theory. But what I learned from Badiou’s use of Cohen is that if you have a transcendental, i.e. an invisible assumed ground over a domain of a certain size, and you expand the territory it covers, if it does not create a difference in the larger scoped territory, then it is essentially irrelevant and does not have to be taken into account in our metaphysics.

Now if we take this insight back to Kant, we see that Kant has three transcendentals The Subject, The Object, and God. God maintains the coherence between the transcendental subject and the noumena, i.e. the transcendental object. This is an invisible scaffolding around our worldview. The Copernican turn from dogmatism is to offer a critique of the necessary preconditions for possible experience. As I listened to this phrase over and over in Bernstein I thought about the Unnecessary Impossibility as its opposite. The transcendental subject as the source of Apriori Synthesis (space, time, categories, schemas) and the Noumena, what is there beyond the appearances are the Unnecessary Impossibilities. They are impossibilities because we cannot know them. And they are unnecessary because no matter how we expand the scope of our inquiry the scaffolding does not make any difference in experience that makes a difference (Bateson). Implicit in Kant’s argument is the opposite of necessary conditions of possibility, which is the unnecessary and insufficient reasons of impossibility of experience of the T. Subject or the T. Object, or God that which retains the coherence between these inaccessible invisibles which are beyond all experience. I have not heard of any commentator who points out this duality between necessary possibilities and unnecessary impossibilities. And this kind of reminds me of Zizek and his argument that Kant glossed the possibility of Ethical Evil, in other words he suppressed that possibility, thinking it impossible. This makes us think that this limit the unnecessary and insufficient impossible is really the core of Kant’s thinking that is unthought. We normally say that what is impossible is the same as the negation of necessity. However, like a priori synthesis there must open up a gap between necessity and its opposite impossibility. Necessity is aligned with Actuality, and Possibility aligned with the Arbitrary. But in order for something to cross over from possibility to actuality there needs to be another moment of potential. For something to be denied the ability to cross over from necessary to the arbitrary there must be the impossible as a barrier. And that means there must be a middle ground between actuality and possibility as well which we can call sufficiency.

Now if we take this conceptual structure as given as the background set of modalities that allow Kant to talk about the necessity that grounds the possibility of experience, then we can discuss the unnecessary lacks grounding for the impossible. In other words the impossible is unmotivated. It is truly spontaneous and the limit of spontaneity from which experience arises. We can read Kant as a meditation on modality, where he wishes to get from the necessary grounds of actual experience by means of positing the transcendentals as the impossible but sufficient lack of grounds for the unknowability of invisibles beyond experience. The spark that jumps this abyss is the intuition of a priori synthesis which gives us the potential for framing experience based on what is absolutely prior to it, in a logical sense.

Kant is always searching for the third moment that can link unreconcilable opposites. So for example he posits a priori synthesis in order to get beyond a priori analysis of reason, and the a posteriori synthesis and analysis within experience. Pure concept is connected to percepts by way of a third moment that connects them the projection of a priori synthesis that we intuit via the imagination. Heidegger seizes on his change in the status of the imagination between the first and second editions of the critique to interpret Kant as a pre-Heideggarian. Heidegger sees the more basic form of the imagination as equivalent to his idea of Dasein as the ability to project Being. Subsumed faculty of the imagination placed under another faculty is imagination tamed, and a step back from the abyss suggested by the free ranging imagination as an independent faculty.

So from all this I opine that the most basic and interesting concept in Kant is the one he does not articulate which is the unnecessary and arbitrary impossibility of the inexperience-able (i.e. the transcendentals) that gives rise to the potentiality to cross over into the necessary conditions for the possibility of experience. This intermediate realm of potentiality allows the sufficient conditions for the actualization of experience.

As we know from Kubler’s Shape of Time actuality is a great mystery which is rooted in potentiality and sufficiency as a middle ground between impossibility and arbitrary on the one hand and necessity and possibility on the other. (

Kubler is the only one I know that has tried to delve into this area of how things become actual, i.e. cross over from possibility to actuality in any serious or deep way from the point of view of an Art Historian, i.e. one who is concerned with the shapes that well up from oblivion based on their first coming into Being as artifacts of a civilization, and then the subsequent loss of this civilization. He uses the metaphor of a light house, whose strobe lights up the darkness momentarily, so that we get a glimpse of what was lost in oblivion, through the relics that were preserved. We embed our experience of time within the things we shape, and we uncover the times of others so different from our own and glimpse other kinds of time when we dig up the artifacts from lost civilizations. Compressing our comprehension of time into shapes is a way to give others access to our own views of time from very different civilizations that have other embodied concepts of time that they embed into their artifacts.

See also
“Ultramoderne”: Or, How George Kubler Stole the Time in Sixties Art by Pamela M. Lee in Grey Room, No. 2. (Winter, 2001), pp. 46-77

But even as Bernstein in his critique of Kant, for not recognizing that there were many kinds of time, and Kubler who sees various civilizations experience of time embedded in their physical artifacts that we use to draw them back from the abyss of oblivion, there is little exploration of the exact mechanism by which things move over from possibility to actuality. I formulated an answer to this question as an addendum to my dissertation which is unpublished based on the work of Ian Thompson ( and the theory of dispositions. Design occurs in Hyper Being of possibilities, but for things to come into existence we need Wild Being of propensities. And the key concept that allows us to move between the extremes of Actuality and Possibility, or Arbitrary and Necessary is the ideas of Potential and Sufficiency. But this is based on understanding the Ultra Being of Unnecessary Impossibility as a limit. Kant skirts around this Impossible possibility and unnecessary adjunct (i.e. supplement) to his philosophy the same way he skirts around the idea of ethical evil as Zizek accuses him of doing. But it is from this hidden singularity in his thought that Hegel sees the French Revolution springing, the Irrational from the heart of critical reason. It is not a necessary condition for destructive chaos being unleashed by the French Revolution throwing off the oppression of sovereignty which ultimately only led back to Napoleonic sovereignty, i.e. from one nihilistic extreme to its opposite, and then back to the first, only with an intensification of nihilism. Hegel saw the advent of Napoleon as the dawning of a new age win which Absolute Spirit was embodied, but little did he imagine the death march of the troops into Russia. (

[Note: E. Tufte’s lecture on this map accessed through Intelligence^2 is brilliant.]

The terrible defeat by nature of the army of Napoleon, his first exile, his escape and defeat at Waterloo, and then second exile show how irrepressible Absolute Spirit can be when embodied in a single man who is the motive force behind historical changes. His reassertion of Sovereignty shaped his times. In him Hegel saw Absolute Reason working itself out in History re-establishing the state which represented Absolute Spirit as embodied by Absolute Monarchy. And this is the fundamental shift after Kant to the recognition that the intersubjective cohort was a horizon on which the individuals humanity was achieved. Absolute Spirit can be seen as an embodiment of that unnecessary Impossibility as Absolute.

Quora answer: What is a simple definition of the philosophy of Derrida?

Differance = Differing and Deferring = Plato’s Third Kind of Being in the Timaeus. We just forgot it was there in the Western tradition until it was rediscovered by Heidegger as -B-e-i-n-g- (crossed out). See John Sallis Chorology.

Posted January 30, 2012 by kentpalmer in Quora

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Quora answer: What are some unsolved problems in information theory?

Negative information?

There is negative energy, negative mass (anti-matter), negative entropy, so what is negative information? Lies? Secrets?

Quora answer: What stages does a good Quora question go through?

A good Quora question goes through states prior to its being in the initial state on Quora which is in the mind of the questioner.

  1. What have I always wanted to know but was afraid to ask?
  2. Is my question inherently biased, if so take out the bias
  3. Does my question have assumptions that others would feel are unwaranted or uncounded, if so either identify the assumptions or take them out of the question.
  4. Does my question have a problematic, or context, or come out of a specific situation that I need to explain in order for it to be meaninful to others.
  5. Have I written down what drives me to ask the question, if not then include that in the clarifying information attached to the question.
  6. Can I just look up the answer on the web or wikipedia, if so don’t ask it but rather go to the sources that already exist.
  7. Do I have other related questions, if so write them down and figure out which one needs to be asked first.
  8. Is my question relevant, significant, meaninful, if not don’t ask it.
  9. Is my question something that others would be interested in also, if not then ask someone directly via email, twitter, or some other service.
  10. Is my question superficial, obvious, inane, or stupid, then don’t ask it on quora, but rather bother someone else who you don’t like instead.
  11. Is my question deep, ultimate, meaningful, life-changing, or in some way crucial, then make sure you ask it.

Once you have formulated the question then ask whether it is in the proper form, i.e whether it is spelled correctly, has a question mark, and is not too long or too short, i.e. make sure it is a well formed sentence you would be proud of when it is answered.

Search Quora to see what other questions are related to the one which you are asking and see if it has already been asked. If so then second that other question by adding a comment to it rather than asking again with similar but different wording.

Basically you should spend as much time formulating your question as you would spend answering a question. The better the formulation of the questions the better the answers are going to be. The more time you spend making the question right, making sure it is a good question and well ordered and with appropriate context and background, the more pleasure you will get from the answers, and the more pleasure people will have answering the question who think they have an answer.

When all this has been done, then enter you question into Quora with its supporting context and references if necessary.

Wait for answers patiently. As you are waiting think about meditating, contemplating, imagining, exploring with curiosity, and do some background research of your own into the question on the Web, or by reading a good book on the subject of your question.

When the answers start coming in then read them, and think about them and consider the intrinsic production of variety by human beings, who all see things differently from you. Attempt to reconcile their answers with the way you were thinking about the question when you wrote it down. Consider other perspectives and consider the limitation of your own perspective, and what you can do to widen, or improve your own perspective.

Take the answers to heart. Those who have answered your question have invested some of their precious lifespan in attempting to give you knowledge, or at least information if not wisdom about the topic of your question, so you should respect their efforts by thinking about their answers.

Don’t answer your own question right away. If you asked it just in order to make your own point, then try to restrain yourself and let others answer first, and then put your own answer as a response to the answers you get. It is best of course that you don’t answer your own question.

After the answers come in consider summarizing the answers on the Wiki page after a sufficient time has passed and a good number of answers have accumulated.

Then consider asking follow up questions, which are then linked to the original question, either in your own answer or in the comments to the question. However, all questions should remain comprehensible if they are encountered on their own.

Engage with others who are answering the question either in the comments or on

Then given what you have learned from asking your question and getting hopefully good answers go on to ask your next question.

Bateson says that there are meta-levels of learning.

The first meta-level above knowing what you know is what we all know as learning, and learning is based on the asking and answering of questions. The better your questions the more you will learn, and know matter how knowledgeable one is there is still a lot to learn, because knowledge, especially these days is endless. It is gained mostly by reading and thinking, and then questioning those who know.

The second meta-level of learning is “learning to learn” which means there are different ways of learning, and everytime you learn a new way of learning then you increase your becoming-in-the-world, i.e. you become a deeper human being with greater potential to learn, and thus you become potentially more knowledgeable.

The third meta-level of learning is learning-to-learn-to-learn. This is learning how to learn new ways learning. It is equivalent to making paradigm shifts in your understanding, because a new vista opens up when you learn how to learn differently. Say you learn by reading good books, and then you learn to diagram the ideas in those books, in order to understand them better. By learning to make diagrams of the concepts in books you have learned a new way of learning. But say you come to understand that mind-maps is only one way of diagramming, and it is better to adapt the way of diagramming to the content of the of the concepts being diagrammed, and you realize that the symbols that you use in your diagram have semiotic meaning themselves which you can also interrogate because they say something about your own thinking about concepts, then you have encountered the third meta-level of learning, where your learning how to learn itself has adapted within the learning process.

The fourth meta-level of learning is “learning-to-learn-to-learn-to-learn” which Bateson thought was the highest level of learning that he likened to achieving enlightenment, where your whole way of understanding is transformed such that your knowledge and comprehension is enhanced in a complete change by apprehending an insight. Getting an insight into the way your mind itself works, and learning to look at things in a completely different way, so that ones actual thinking process changes is attained at this meta-level of learning.

The fifth meta-level of learning is where one confronts non-knowledge, forgetfulness, oblivion, the clearing and openness in Being, and where learning itself becomes a singularity. At that point learning itself becomes a form of knowledge which has intrinsic wisdom.

When you are asking questions and learning from the answers then if you are wise you will be attempting to scale these meta-levels of learning so you can attain the various meta-levels of knowledge which are aligned with the meta-levels of existence, which are correlated to the meta-levels of Being. In this process you learn the nature of yourself and your worldview and the relation between the two, and you become who you really are, rather than merely being a phantom of yourself, because according to Plato, we recollect knowledge, it does not come from the outside but from inside ourselves, and those who give use their knowledge are only midwives like Socrates to our own intellectual and spiritual rebirth when we ourselves must pursue, because no one can give us what is already within ourselves, which is true, real, identical and present knowledge that is lost in oblivion or just forgotten, When we climb the meta-levels of learning we are approaching the meta-levels of knowledge which are the truly perduring things in our experience, which the meta-levels of Being only pretend to be.

When you ask questions of others you are actually interrogating yourself, and learning what is inside of you which comes out in your questions and your reactions to the unexpected answers. Questions of others are the key to self-discovery. As Hegel said the only way to self-consciousness is through the comprehension of otherness, and it is in this interaction that Absolute Spirit is forged.

We need to learn questioning, and also question learning. We question learning when we understand that the way we are taught in schools is not what we need to do to actually learn things in our lives that will increase our useful knowledge and will help us live in our lifeworld. But the alternative to questioning learning is to learn how to question, because the deeper our questions that we pose to others and ourselves at the same time, the deeper we become and the more likely that we will go beyond knowledge into the realm of wisdom, and then perhaps insight, and possibility even achieving self-realization. A good way to embark on that journey is to begin by attempting to ask good questions about the right subjects, in an orderly way, in order to understand ones own fate and thus attain the sources of ourselves in order to approach the root of our unique human existence.

Posted January 30, 2012 by kentpalmer in Quora

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Quora answer: What does a good question on Quora look like?

It is interesting that there is a question answered by Quora staff about good answers but no such question about good questions. The answers are not the problem here on Quora, but I think this shows that the staff is not looking at the problem of the questions being sub par. So following up on the post about good answers I thought I would give a similar answer about good questions.

A good question is rooted in a problematic. That is to say it is not something you pull out of the air. I get the picture that people get on Quora and they suddenly feel as if they must ask a question, so they think uha….What is Existence? Typing the first thing that comes into their head. And of course many of those questions are full of assumptions and biases and are really not true questions that are worth answering.

For instance, just taking a random example:

“Why are Republicans not as intelligent as Democrats, on average?”

But people like me take these crazy and seemingly worthless questions that pretend to be philosophical and go to town with them because they are just begging to have substantial answers just to show how ludicrous they are. The disparity between the questions and the answers are somewhat laughable.

So how do you ask a good question?

First you have to know something to ask a worthwhile question. So the first thing is to attempt to learn something, by reading, living, exploring, all the good things that make life worth living in what passes for civilization.

It is not true that there is no stupid questions. We see them here on Quora all the time, they are questions that reek of bias and assumptions and actually have no other content. These are stupid questions. And they create a lot of clutter and they are part of the nihilism of quora. So one way to spruce up your questions is to take out all the bias and ungrounded assumptions that are pointless. They merely show your ignorance and that is really not something you want to show in public. Just because Quora in their wisdom decided to make questions anonymous is no excuse. It is still you that people are thinking about when they see a really dumb question that is yours.

But what can we do, if we actually want to ask a decent question?

Well once we get rid of the biases and unfounded assumptions then it helps to have a real question in mind. In other words it is a good idea if you really want to know the answer. Genuine questions have a ring of truth about them or at least earnestness. So just ask yourself if you really care about the answer to the question, and don’t ask any that you could care less if someone answered. Even simple questions that are genuine are readily accepted by those who know. In other words if you genuinely want to know something, and ask a straight forward question about it, people will be generous with their knowledge. Knowledge is something painfully acquired ( as in the book by Lo Chen Shun), but no matter how one has struggled to attain it, everyone with genuine knowledge is happy to share what they have discovered, because everyone was ignorant once, no one was born with knowledge. And so everyone knows what it is like not to know, and they are happy to share what ever they have learned, if they are wise as well as knowledgeable.

Now once we have gotten rid of as many biases that we can, or are aware of, and attempted to free our questions from unnecessary assumptions, and we really want to know the answer to our question, then the next thing that helps is to have a problematic. In other words good questions don’t just pop out of thin air, but are in fact born from an exploration, or intellectual adventure, or experience, or suffering, or something going on inside us that drives us toward knowledge of some specific domain of knowledge. So the next thing is to figure out what the problematic of your question is and to state that as part of the context. Quora helps us to do that by providing a place to give more information about the question. But also you can write a post that talks about what you are passionate about learning and why. If you go to the trouble to offer this context people will see a lot more in your question, rather than thinking that it is merely some passing thought you might have had. If you are thinking about something yourself, and you ask a question at the limits of your knowledge, then that is the best way to advance your thinking, but it is difficult to guage where someone is coming from and going to from one line questions with no context. They are just as bad as one line answers with no explanation, rationale, or point worth making.

Now if you want to know what your problematic is just think about what fascinates you. What ever that is, is the central vortex of your problematic, no matter how refined your approach to the subject might be. It is best if you consider yourself as being on an intellectual adventure and attempting to go beyond the horizons of your thought. Then when you are pushing that boundary is when you are most likely to ask a deep question, that is universal. Universality for humans flows from their particularity. Humans are variety produces as Stafford Beer has said in The Heart of Enterprise. Thus everyone will have a different point of view, and interpretation of questions and answers. But it is that peculiarity that comes from this natural variety production that takes us deeper into our humanity, and that is what good questions are bound to do for us.

Now there is a recognition of the intelligence of a good question. A good question makes us think. It makes us stretch our own viewpoints, assumptions, biases, and problematics by recognizing the variety which we have together. As Heidegger said thinking is thanking. In other words we thank the person who has asked a genuine or even deep question by answering it, and through that we recognize kindred spirits who are on intellectual adventures of their own, and want to go beyond the horizons of their current habits and plateaus of knowledge into unknown realms of deeper knowledge.

Now the next step is to realize that an answer can be the beginning of a conversation rather than the end of a polemic, and a good place to have those realtime conversations is, which supports realtime conversation. So it is good if one can engage the others who are interested in a question in Dialogue. Comments here on quora don’t really cut it. They are pretty lame. But I guess it is better than no interaction between the members of Quora. Of course, there are always personal messages as well. It is best to make contact with those with whom you share an interest.

We occasionally see follow up questions here. And in fact it is through follow up questions that matters are clarified. Sometimes comments are used for this purpose. And what I do is if the answer to a comment is worth while I include it in my original answer. That way the answer does not get lost in the comments section which few look at. It would be good if one could link questions. But the only way to really do that is to put links in the questions themselves. But the person who is asking the follow-up question has no place to put that link as
Quora is now constructed. This is poor design in my view. But what is needed is for the follow up questions and answers to form a braid of linked questions and answers, like a thread in email. This kind of braid of dialogue consisting of questions and answers is called a dialectic. We see these in Plato’s Socratic Dialogues. But the best model of it is the Skepticism of Sextus Empiricus. That school developed what can be thought of as the Buddhism of Q&A which in Buddhism is called Skillful Means. I won’t go into that here but Hegel was influenced by Heraclitus and Skepticism in his development of the Dialectic of Sublation (Aufhebung). Hegel said that moving through us is an Absolute Spirit which was an expression of Absolute Reason. It is that which we embody according to him when we partake in genuine discourse. Genuine discourse about what we care most about and what fascinates us in our pursuit of knowledge on our intellectual adventure should be the driving force behind the questions we ask and the answers we give.

Sextus Empiricus


Briefly the philosophy of Sextus Empiricus, Pyrhoism, has as its goal to keep the conversation going. the Skeptic finds peace in the ongoing conversation and will do anything to keep it going including playing the devil’s advocate, i.e. say things he himself does not believe just to egg others on to deeper and more conversation about the topic under discussion. The goal of Skepticism is to keep the conversation going at all costs, even if the means leads to nihilism. Because he recognizes that is the way that everyone continues to learn the most and to mature into deeper knowledge though mutual instruction.


Posted January 30, 2012 by kentpalmer in Quora

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