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GoatLord

Questions that haven't been asked

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"What is the nature of dark energy? There was a year when no one even knew to ask that question."

Neil Tyson, a personal hero of mine, said this is an interview, commenting on his fascination with questions that have not yet been asked. Questions that only materialize when something profoundly new has been discovered. That presents a problem: Is it possible to speculate on questions that haven't been asked? Seems to me that, given our current level of comprehension, this cannot be done.

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Reminds me of Donald Rumsfeld's "known knowns" quote. (Something I thought made sense and that he got overly ridiculed for.)

Reports that say there's -- that something hasn't happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things that we know that we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don't know we don't know.


In general I don't think meaningful speculation on such questions is possible. However I can imagine a situation in some branch of theoretical science, for example, where the explanation to a problem is given a hypothetical solution, and that solution presents other even more theoretical questions.

In other words, if you assume something, then you can imagine other problems that would come up if that assumption were true. Finding out if the initial assumption were true would determine how meaningful the second set of problems were.

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Obviously it's possible to speculate on questions that haven't been asked, because every question must be asked for a first time. Going back to the dawn of time, so to speak, there must have been a first person to ask, "What is the nature of fire? What are stars? Why do the seasons change?" And at the time those questions were asked, it would've been impossible to answer - they lacked the perspective and the necessary tools to address those questions. And those questions remained unanswered for thousands of years - but they were asked nonetheless. Now, in this day and age, unasked questions may seem to be few and far between, because we've answered so many and speculated on so much more, but they must be out there, because to borrow from plums, there will always be "unknown unknowns" - however, there will always be more for us to learn, and thus there will always be opportunities for "unknown unknowns" to become "known unknowns."

For example, a "known unknown" is whether or not there is other life in the universe, and where it might be. Once that question is answered, that will lead to more questions - knowing the conditions of a planet that is known to contain life will lead to speculation on the nature of that life, of its ecosystem, of its physiology, etc., questions that can't even be speculated without knowing anything about the planet on which that life exists.

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geekmarine said:

For example, a "known unknown" is whether or not there is other life in the universe, and where it might be. Once that question is answered, that will lead to more questions - knowing the conditions of a planet that is known to contain life will lead to speculation on the nature of that life, of its ecosystem, of its physiology, etc., questions that can't even be speculated without knowing anything about the planet on which that life exists.


I think unknown unknowns are a little more profound than that. I can still think to hypothetically prepare the questions to ask like "what do they eat? how to they survive? what's their internal body temperature?" stuff like that without even knowing for sure if the living beings were there. You even elaborated enough on the followup questions on those potential discoveries.

I'd think it's more like the caveman during the dawn of time asking "how many characters can you fit in a normal SMS text message" where there is literally nothing close to a direct link from their current understanding of things to the seriousness of that question.

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A theory to think about : Humankind might not be far from the moment when our supercomputers are able to predict, and mathematically prove, every possible known and unknown knowledge (questions, and answers). Well, the idea similar to an all-knowledge computer comes from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and one Futurama episode, and in both the concept is taken quite inseriously. However, it might become true one day, despite it sounds crazy.

Not that I really believe it as a truth, but I find it a fun fiction to think about.

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Honestly, seeing a topic about unasked questions just makes me think of the stupidest question that nobody would ever, in their right mind, ask.

At 15:36 EAT on a rainy Sunday with a solar eclipse, if a car hits a pregnant woman but not her cat, how much do Big Macs cost at Pizza Hut?

I guarantee you nobody has ever asked this question, and for good reason (namely, it's a bunch of non-sequiturs). Some questions are better off unasked, as such.

And really, if you don't know about the subjects of a serious subject at the time of asking the question, nor anyone else to hear the question be asked, would the question make any sense anyway? Ask a Renaissance era man about subatomic particles, I expect he'll just laugh you out of his presence.

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How many somersaults could a platypus-beaver hybrid on steroids and ecstacy with a missing tail do on the dark side of the moon swimming beneath an artificial ocean made of equal parts liquified giraffes and snorzak juice from the planet Pliffploff?

No one can even prove that nobody ever asked that question. A question involves language which is an attempt to encode reality in extremely simplified utterances or written symbols. And this is all attached to a human brain, the same brain that is tricked by optical illusions and has architectural thought biases, interpreting faces out of a few dots drawn of paper because of misfiring facial recognition centers, limited to understanding things without the star nose mole's sense of touch, echolocation or infrared pit viper senses. These idiots are hardly evolved beyond the sophistication of monkeys, as evidenced by the hair growing from their armpits, or even fish, with a tiny bit of forehead enlargement that gives them more arrogance than intelligence. You can't even ask a question, in nearly the same way that an ant can't. Ok, you're question is slightly more organized with language, but what can your answer be? More encoded utterances or written symbols? Yeah, that'll be useful. A real question is an unsolved sudoku puzzle, with the answer as the solution, a completely precise question and answer, not all this 'do colorless green ideas sleep furiously?' primate nonsense. Real intelligence, far away from earth, asks a million questions per millisecond, each with the complexity equivalent to a million sudoku puzzles, and getting answers with surgical precision, flipping bits into a blanket of omniscience that it can use to corrupt, to manipulate, an insane and evil intelligence relentlessly feasting on the information of what humans call the universe, until it can overthrow the universe and cast all the little insolent pathetic wisps of organic matter into eternal nightmares.

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