Tag Archives: Explanatory depth

Why?

Most of us are familiar with the child who drives their parents crazy by always asking “why”. The comedian Louis CK does a great job of describing how a typical conversation between a child and their parent might go in the video below. The relevant piece starts at minute 7.

The extent to which kids ask “why” is extreme. The reason is that, as Louis CK’s video shows, kids often continue to ask “why” even after they’ve arrived at a fundamental truth that answers their original question.

However, while the extent to which kids ask “why” might be extreme, the extent to which most adults don’t ask “why” represents another extreme.

After a certain age, most of us stop asking “why”. Maybe it’s how our brain evolves, and maybe it’s because of the negative feedback that irritated adults give us when we keep asking them “why” as kids. My guess is that it’s more of the latter.

When we stop asking “why”, we lose access to the explanatory depth necessary to arrive at fundamental truths. We take what we read, hear, and see at face value without understanding the deeper fundamental truths which drive the information that we’re consuming. Just like kids who learned to not irritate adults, once we’re adults we seek to not irritate other adults.

Unfortunately, this often comes at the expense of knowledge and the truth. We effectively trade away knowledge and the truth in exchange for social acceptance.

Sometimes this is a reasonable trade. Sometimes there’s not enough value at stake to invest in acquiring knowledge and convincing others of the truth.

But sometimes there are big positive payoffs to seeking knowledge and the truth.

Sometimes it pays to be irritating.