“If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about answers.”
– Thomas Pynchon’s third proverb for paranoids, in Gravity’s rainbow.

Questions have the power to do many things, all of them related to getting you to focus your attention on one thing and away from everything else – similar to InternetConcentration, but far more powerful.

Seemingly small questions can lead to huge institutions:

Because questions are so powerful,

See Also


(This originally was part of PlainTalk, the section on salespeople. MattBowen said salespeople ask questions in order to learn what people already know. I suggest here that salespeople ask questions to control conversations as well, and then carry on to other ideas about what kinds of dangers and powers come with questions.)

Tangential note: Salespeople use questions because questions have the power to control questions. If you want to control a conversation, you can start asking questions. You ask a question on an unsuspecting person, and they’re all… “uh… uh…” …trying to come up with an answer. And they’ll answer (if snared,) and listen for your response. (Which may well be another question, if you want to keep the person on the line.) People feel compeled to answer questions addressed to them, even from perfect strangers.

This is like how in a democracy, the issue isn’t so much… “Do we get to vote or not?” …The issue is: “Who decides what’s up for vote, and when do they decide it? Who decides the framing of the vote?” On the microscopic level of individual people, it’s: “Who’s asking the questions? Where is my attention?”

Questions- just “questions” in themselves- not talking about particular questions- are interesting. They can have a transfixing power over us. Even our own questions, that we ask ourselves! Questions have a metaphysical power to them. I’ve seen many programmers freezing themselves with questions. Questions can control us. That said, we can also use them for their terrible affective power. Proper questions at the right time can open up whole new worlds for us. Either addressed to ourselves, or addressed to others.

Sorry, I’m rambling, and it’s off topic. But at some point, I’d love to see a page on the powers of questions.

One thing to take away from this though: Never accept a question on it’s face. I mean; I think the best response to a question is to hold it in a staging ground, a foyer, a padio, a containment unit. Analyze and feel out the question itself, without thinking out the answer. Then either reject it, or accept it, with proper treatment and care. Just blindly accepting any question that floats our way- I think it’s dangerous. To bring it down to Earth- I see a lot of programmers working on any question that occurs to them. “Hmm, good question- let me see…” We have to think about how much the question costs.

But I don’t mean to say that the power of questions ends with “a mechanism of control” and “something to think about the costs of.” I believe that they have a metaphysical power to them, beyond any clear mechanical idea of what they are and what they do. These metaphysical powers are not known by thinking and rationalising and modeling, but they are known by observation and perception and due attention.

Eh… I think some weird thoughts some times. I don’t know why I’m compelled to say these things some times.

Leading Questions There are a couple types of questions. In a court, there’s the concept of a “Leading Question” – a question which really does control the witness. Some example: Non-Leading: “Where were you that night?” Leading Question: “Were you not in the victim’s home on Tuesday the 7th?”

These questions have remarkable power: The questioned usually can only answer in “Yes” or “No” and often doesn’t get his/her perspective given. These questions are generally not used to get high-quality information, but instead to get specific ideas across to bulster a case.

Even more of a leading question: “Have you stopped beating your wife?”


Keep an eye on if “Why I’m compelled to say these things some times?” is the right question you are asking yourself. I don’t really think so btw. Cool soupy page.

I added the section on Leading Questions. There’s a name for the other type, but I can’t remember it. If someone else does, please fix the leading questions section. I was on a mock trial team for a little while, so I know a little bit about them. I think what we’re really getting at is the relationship of language to thought: How much do the words we say (and how we say them) shape what and how we think?

I’ve been thinking about “Ask for what you really want” for some time now. Programmers especially find it easy to run benchmarks (“ask questions about some machines”) and get a bunch of meaningless numbers. People who want to use a computer to do something find it difficult to verbalize (to programmers) exactly what it is that they want.

As a student, I was trained to rattle off answers. I’m starting to realize that I got little training in how to ask good questions. Other people also seem to have difficulty asking for precisely what they want – it’s so easy to ask for just a tiny fraction of what we want, or to bloat a request for “what I want” by adding in a long-winded explaination of one (and probably not the best one) of the nearly infinite ways to achieve that.

I fill out forms, or pledge allegiance to a flag, sometimes feeling proud of the fact that I know all the answers, that I remember all the words. But sometimes I (and I assume others) don’t really thinking about what we are doing – we give no thought as to where these forms are going, what people are going to do with this information, what sorts of things I’m promising to do when I make this pledge.

Today my favorite questions are:

  • What are you grateful for?
  • What are you committed to?
  • What are you most excited about today?


This page has become crucially important to me.

This page entirely misses the mark.

Or rather, it’s more like an awakening page: This page represents that period between sleepy dreams, and awakening: It represents a hint of some much deeper power. But the answers we gave for this page were very weak.

Critical points:

  • Questions are focuses of attention.
  • Questions represent failure modes.
    • When you are missing your keys in the morning, you escalate the question: “Where are my keys?”
  • There are cascading hierarchies of questions.
  • Entire institutions come out of questions.
    • Civilization: “How shall we live?”
    • Science: “How does nature work?”
    • Technology: “How can we make it better?”
    • Business: “How can I make more money?”
    • Politics: “How do I gain wealth and power?”
    • …and so on.
  • An important question is: “How do we make sure life is increasingly more satisfying for all people on Earth, and how do we make sure the environment we find ourself in is increasingly healthy?”
    • There are presently no institutions to insure that this question is answered.
    • But: Questions represent failure modes, and the question is being asked.
    • Aquisition of resources is a critical part to the answering of this question, and one set of answers leads to the alternative currencies works/questions.

We noted questions as focus of attention, and the role of question-as-directive, in the sphere of social communications. The common point is question-as-focus, leading to question-as-operations and observing rising questions as escalation of failure modes. This is the avenue where we we discover more deeply the power of questions.

I learned this idea at the EvolutionarySalon, as described at the bottom of the MetaPhysics page. It’s turned my thinking upside down and slapped me silly in a way that miraculously integrates with everything else that’s been going on with me lately, and has moved them further.


  • This is a MetaPhysics.
    • That is, this is a particular way of looking at things.
    • There are other ways of looking at things.
  • Weaknesses
    • Ask yourself: “Suppose I had a genie, that could answer any question I could put to it. What then?”
    • Ultimately, there is something other than than asking questions, and getting answers.
  • “What should I be asking? What am I not asking?” – this is a critical question (translatable to: What should I be paying attention to?)

That said: This has been mighty powerful for me.

Implications for…

  • the HiveMind – distribute analysts in different fields; clear role for the collaborative human interpreter by way of mass analysis
  • AI – points to a structure, at the very least, and provides a clear role for semantic queries; it helps clarify the role of “search” in fleshing out an AI map: semantics, search, simulation, and evolution
  • daily life – identifying and amplifying questions has, for me, (at the very least,) been profoundly transformative
  • CommunityWiki – by identifying CommunityWiki questions, we can fulfill at least a major part of the dream (promoted mainly by BayleShanks, but felt by at least me as well) of focusing our attention and efforts, should we decide to do so – further, we may want to habitually list questions on pages, as a major section

See also:

  • Structured Evidential Argument System – this is a really neat and clear visualization of how large masses (and computer systems!) can identify critical questions and figure out what to pay attention to; it also has implic
  • RainbowsEnd [1]
  • Wikipedia review of The Matrix: Reloaded – “When the protagonist trio request the Keymaker, the Merovingian instead responds with his own line of questions. The Keymaker “…is not a reason,” according to the Merovingian. “This is not a why. The Keymaker himself—his very nature—is a means. It is not an end. And so to look for him is to be looking for a means to do … what?””

I also find myself reviewing the questions asked in a Miracle of Science, and GeekHealth: “Are you healthy? Are you feeling well? Are you okay? Are things working out for you? IS there something in you seeking expression?”

I’m curious: Does anybody here “get this?

I’m seriously wondering whether:

  • There is, truthfully, no interesting insight here.
  • I’m not communicating this clearly enough.
  • Everybody’s just gone missing.
  • Everyone’s just waiting for me to flesh it out, at the top of the page.

Why this is significant:

  • It suggests a clear blueprint for self-organized goal-oriented activity online, for the GlobalBrain as a whole.
  • We can use this, immediately, to get greater clarity on what’s happening, and to figure out what’s important in our various studies, here at CommunityWiki.
  • The technique can be refined by both SoftTechnology and HardTechnology.

Look at the Structured Evidencial Argument System. Realize that this kind of thing can go running in real-time, parallelized across several (perhaps even hoards) of analysts. (“Analysts” – that’s us.) I track it back to the professor named in the program, "Dr John D Lowrance." Look specifically at his research interests: Is this not HiveMind territory? Look at the overlap!

SEAS is amazing. Knowledge capture and analysis is exactly what we are doing with WebAssistant TeleCommunity Software, but our approach is not as tightly focused on analytics as SEAS, although there are some similarities.

As for ThePowerOfQuestions, you’ve really made me think with this. It seems to me that part of the power of a question is that it seems to have at least a partly automatic “power” to get people model whatever the question is asking in their mind. The brain/mind is geared towards modelling. This goes back to the evolution of primates and “spindle cells” in the brains nuerology. Kurzweil discusses spindle cells in “The Singularity Is Near” (see pg 192), and how they are essential components in our emotional intelligence, adn our ability to model things in our brain/mind systems. A core part of human intelligence seems to be an innate ability to model. When someone presents us with something we do not understand, or only partially understand, in the form of a question, our brains apparently attempt to model what has been presented to us. Then, we often try to communicate whatever we’ve modeled in our brains. Often, people can predict how other people will model things in their brain/mind systems,and can form their questions thusly. Our ability to predict the way that people will act is partly based upon watching the behavior of an individual that we are attempting to predict the reaction of, and partly upon roughly knowing what information is available to that person, and then knowing how most people will tend to respond when they are faced with a given information asymmetry.

The controlling “power” of questions, I believe at least in part, relies on the nature of the way the human brain/mind has evolved into, and works as a modeling and memory system. It also possibly takes advantage of how humans tend to work within a group.

Forgive me if I am rambling. I will come back to this after I think about it for a while and see if I can communicate what i am saying better at that time.

Should I move the SEAS stuff to MappingArguments ?

No; Because it’s not argument mapping. It’s a structured analysis, but it’s not argument mapping.

By argument mapping, I think of something where a bunch of peopel with a bunch of different perspectives on a topic come together, in order to flesh out something controversial between them. “Difference” is a major part of it.

“Difference” is not a major part of SEAS. SEAS is more focused on the ability to aggregate analysis on the part of multiple analysts simultaneously. It’s expected (I would think) that the analysts exist in more-or-less the same world as each other, and share common interest. The point is to perform generic human-level computation in parallel, in order to receive specific answers.

(Thank you for starting DocumentMode work, BTW!)

You’re welcome.

Argument mapping involves finding out why people disagree about some high-level “conclusion”, by building up a huge pile of supporting statements.

At first glance the SEAS stuff looks like it was about building an identical pyramid of supporting statements. But SEAS handles fuzzier inputs and outputs: “Yes, almost certainly – likely – about as even as not – unlikely – No, almost certainly not”, and inputs and outputs that change with time. So it can handle stuff that normal true/false boolean logic can’t handle – but even given correct inputs, the conclusions are no longer air-tight mathematically true. There is a lot more subjectivity there, in the way the pyramid is constructed. (We talked about this at ThinkingGoo, right?).

I’m still a little fuzzy on whether SEAS is a completely different thing than an argument map (apples vs. taxes), or whether we should consider one a subset of the other (oranges vs. seedless oranges), or perhaps the same tool used for different purposes (the fiddle vs. the violin).

Is there a page on some wiki somewhere talking about the PowerOfNumbers? ? I’m starting to see some backlash against numbers, claiming they don’t tell the whole story:

I am slipping by the SEAS discussion for right now. But, David made me think about how it is possible that ThePowerOfQuestions is a qualitative view point, and ThePowerOfNumbers? is a quantitative view point. It seems to me that the qualitative and the quatitative actually work to add transparency and objectivity to each other.

For instance, in Barabasi's "Linked", Barabasi’s thoery about the behavior of networks is all based upon quantitative data, and conclusions drawn from it.

However, looking at the qualitative nature of complex networks shows that the behavior and nature is not universal. There are some universal principles, but also some behaviors and nature in networks that depends upon the qualitative analysis.

So, to get a clearer picture, you need ThePowerOfQuestions combined with the ThePowerOfNumbers?, IMO.

Today, my least-favorite question is (put bluntly): How can I extract lots of money from casual gamers?.

That’s horrible.

When I first saw your “My least-favorite question today,” I immediately thought of my own “least-favorite question today” – “OK– what exactly are you trying to do?” …which I usually hear when proposing an invention. ;)

BayleShanks once made a page about “thinking from the end,” or "problem-solving from the end," rather than from the beginning. The validity of “here’s an idea, I don’t know how it fits.” Demanding waterfall problem solving really bugs me; I like to see emergent solutions to problems, and I find they often come up part by part. Identifying questions from the beginning point is (to me) a part of this, but it is only a part of this, and reconceptualizing “initial questions” is regular, as is starting from the middle in my book.

But, yes, I agree: The question you identified is hard hearted.

I am trying to understand how to engage my culture towards opening it’s heart, without coming out preachy. It has a hard time understanding it’s heartlessness, or perhaps it has a hard time understanding how to open it’s heart. Stephen Colbert appears to argue heart-vs-brain, which to me sets up in people’s minds, “no, we should use our brain, rather than our heart.” My friend BlackHat argues to me: “People who complain about X are wrong, they’re just following their hearts.” He proposed inaction, just doing things as always, and I have never heard him utter a single positive word about the heart. I do believe that "the Heart Problem of Man" is real, and I believe that developing our hearts at all levels of world power is the crux of mending our world, from which everything else follows.

I am a little sad, because I don’t know how to engage this idea from here.

I only skimmed the link but I don’t see what’s wrong with it. If you want to do something full-time and you are not rich, you have to identify someone willing to pay you for it, and convince them to do so. In this case, the idea is that someone wants to make games full-time and wants to get (either (a) the people who play the games, or (b) advertisers) to fund them. So what is wrong?

Certainly the idea of people being “money machines” would be heartless if that were actually believed. But I don’t think anyone actually expects the gamers to transform into machines. In reality, they are other people who are funding your game development in exchange for the game (or looking at advertising, which then convinces other people to fund your development). I guess you might think of them as machines because their individual lives, hopes, dreams, relationships, and problems, really isn’t any of your concern except insofar as it affects the game. From your point of view, they just play the game and give you money. But that’s not because you are heartless, that’s because there’s going to be so many players that you don’t have time to get to know them individually. And even if you did have time they might just want to play the game, without telling you so much information about their personal lives that you really thought of each of them as unique.

I agree that, if someone wants to make a really wonderful game, that those 2 choices are good and honest ways to pay for the time and effort involved in setting up the game and keeping it running.

But the article seems to focus entirely on how to get more money – it focuses on a short-term means, rather than a longer-term end.

This article reminds me too much (perhaps I am reading too much into it) of Wiki:ZeroSumGamers – people who seem to think there is only a fixed amount of money (or supply of any other desirable thing), and the only way for me to get more, is for someone else to get less.

The article seems to recommend squeezing as money as possible out of a game. That reminds me too much of the quote “It’s morally wrong to let a sucker keep his money” (– Wikipedia:Canada_Bill_Jones).

A good friend of mine tried to describe to me what he saw in a country where the wealthy and powerful do everything in their power to gain even more (short-term) wealth and power, no matter what the effect on the poor. He saw the wealthy ended up living in barbed-wire compounds that look much like prisons in the U.S. .

OK, I’ve now read the article, and I see that it does not explicitly ask the question: “How can I extract lots of money from casual gamers?”

There are people asking that question, no doubt. But this article is not explicitly asking that question.

Instead, it explicitely asks: “How Casual Games Can Become Money Machines?”

If you want to do something full-time and you are not rich, you have to identify someone willing to pay you for it, and convince them to do so. In this case, the idea is that someone wants to make games full-time and wants to get (either (a) the people who play the games, or (b) advertisers) to fund them. So what is wrong?

If the question were, “How can I find people who are willing (eager, even) to pay for the games that I can safely & securely make the games I want to make,” then I would think, “What a great question!”

Wouldn’t you agree?

I think an even better question would be, “How can I make the world a happier, healthier, more fun and interesting place to be, by making games for people to play?” The question of financing, and so on, becomes secondary, though still important. If this (what I believe is better) question is recognized as primary, than the answer to secondary questions cannot work at cross-purposes to this first question. The question “How Casual Games Can Become Money Machines?” is not asked.

I guess you might think of them as machines because their individual lives, hopes, dreams, relationships, and problems, really isn’t any of your concern except insofar as it affects the game. From your point of view, they just play the game and give you money. But that’s not because you are heartless, that’s because there’s going to be so many players that you don’t have time to get to know them individually.

We can’t get to know them individually, that is true (though we can open up forums and such, and communities around the games, and so on, so that they can express themselves individually, and such.)

However, I think we can get to know them collectively (AreGroupsReal? The answer is: “yes.”)

If they are your concern, then that is good, and you don’t think of them as machines for making money.

If they aren’t any of your concern, I stop to ask: “Why are you doing business?”

I have seen the idea expressed before that, because people are all different, and because people have different values and things that they want, etc., that we therefor should not extend care and concern to them.

People then ask: "Am I my brother's keeper?"


Define external redirect: WikiAnswers ThePowerOfNumbers PowerOfNumbers

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