The found question

As the saying goes, the question well-asked is half answered.

I'm a fan of better questions, and here's a great one courtesy of Dave Munger at Cognitive Daily: do we have the tools to re-create language? The inspiration for that post from Munger may be found on Edmund Bolles' blog about the origins of speech, Babel's Dawn, and it goes like this:

If we shipwrecked a boatload of babies on the Galapagos Islands -- assuming they had all the food, water, and shelter they needed to survive  -- €”would they produce language in any form when they grew up? And if it did, how many individuals would you need for it to take off, what form might it take, and how would it change over the generations?

If answerable, these kinds of questions can lead to breakthroughs in understanding. Contrast this with "presented" questions or problems, which typically generate incrementally better answers based on past experience; in other words, the answers may be found by consulting a textbook.

At the ideaFestival, it's the discovered questions that are the most interesting. It's the kind of question that might come up should Twyla Tharp have a sit down with a cognitive psychologist and an evolutionary biologist to discuss embodiment, or why we know more than we can tell.

Another example of a found question might be this one: why should the arrow of time point in only one direction? Shouldn't time be symmetrical? In the process of characterizing the relationship between space and time, author and science professor Russell Stannard elegantly makes that point in the following paragraph. The italics are mine.

An important result of relativity is that is has revealed hitherto unsuspected similarities between space and time. Instead of being distinct and independent of each other as previously thought, space and time are now recognized as being integrally bound up with each other in an enlarged space of four dimensions. Though this does not mean that time has now to be regarded as identical in every respect to the three spacial dimensions -- it clearly is not -- one is, nevertheless, led to inquire how close the similarities might be and the extent to which the roles of space and time be interchanged. I this way, it becomes legitimate to ask why one should only regard the whole of space as being "in existence" and not the whole of time.

The potential answers suggest a dramatic re-imagining of the universe. I'll post more on an experiment to test the ever-presence of time in the next few days.


Wikipedia: Arrow of Time