To Bear Thought

“Why understand? What does it mean to understand?”. Two posts ago, I talked about compact expression, and that is part of the answer. Today I try a different angle.

Certain things “bear thinking about”. Which things those are would depend on who you are. How funny/recursive though, to have thoughts about the utility of further thinking.

The answer to a “where?” question is the name of a place, while “who?”s are answered by giving the names of people. I was thinking about “why” and “how” when this became apparent:

We manage our knowledge by classifying it under various levels of fundamentality/depth. Shallow statements are easily seen to be true or false, but are often quite specific and hence limited in applicability. Deep statements are abstract and cannot be applied directly, but can be used to construct various shallow statements. The construction process takes time and is often error-prone. The deep is induced from the shallow, and the shallow is deduced from the deep.

When we ask “why?”, or “how?”, what we expect is some elucidation of the connection between the shallow phenomena in the question with some deeper rules. For an answer to be satisfying, two conditions are required.

Firstly, the connection has to be logically sound. We are actually able to verify the correctness of the reasoning without an appeal to authority, i.e. it is possible for an answer to make no sense and hence be rejected. This works because verifying logic is easier than searching for logic.

Secondly, a link between different levels of depth must be made. Since the classification of depth is a priori, I have difficulty coming up with a simple example of this – the concept of inanity is very context dependent. A co-worker hypothesized the other day that cats slept so much because they needed to conserve energy, which in turn was due to them having high body temperature. That I consider an inane explanation because “sleep a lot” and “high body temperature” are at the same depth of truth and do not answer “why?”. A potentially acceptable answer would have appealed to the desert origins of cats and evolutionary biology.

It is important to take into account the conceptions of depth that one’s audience has in order to provide satisfying answers and also ask many of the more important questions in life.

Topics that “bear thinking” are those which are anticipated to provide the most satisfying connections in answer – those which relate vastly different depths of reality.

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