First draft. Thoughts, comments, problems, questions?
# Using Questions in Thinking
Thinking and learning effectively involves asking and answer *many* questions. When you have a new idea, or you read about an idea that’s new to you, you must *question it*. This is a bit different than trying to criticize it by finding things wrong with it. Questions can be friendly/helpful or challenging or neutral. Think of all sorts of questions about how it works, what all the parts and details are, how those work, what the purpose is, how it accomplishes its purpose, how the idea was developed, what other ideas its connected to, how it answers various potential challenges/criticisms/doubts/objections/etc.
Treat this like brainstorming where you turn off your filter. They don’t have to be very good questions. Include questions you already know the answer to. Include easy questions and hard questions. Include questions you’re sure have a good answer. Just come up with a *ton* of them.
The **first step** is brainstorming questions. Then, as the **second step**, try to answer the questions. (The steps aren’t strictly ordered. You may think of more questions while answering some.)
If you’re learning from a book (or article, podcast, video, etc), try to find answers in the book. The author thought of many of the same questions and wrote things to help answer some of them.
Consider answers that are common sense or standard culture knowledge. What should an educated person in our society already know or be able to think of?
Consider your own answers. Try to come up with your own ideas.
Consider expert answers. What would a specialist say about this using some of his special training? Often you won’t know. You can skip this. But sometimes it’s worth looking into. Or sometimes you’re dealing with a field where you’re a specialist so you can comment on the expert point of view.
You can have an answer, or even several answers, of each type, for each question. Look for at least one answer per question, but having several is good.
Don’t filter yourself when coming up with answers. They don’t have to be good answers. They can be that you don’t know. They can be any idea you have about an answer. Like with the questions, quality isn’t a big concern here.
As a **third step**, look over what you have. Decide which questions you think are important, which answers you think are good, what important unanswered questions are left, etc. Figure out what answers satisfy you and what you still have more questions about. For philosophy and other important stuff or stuff where it’s easy to be wrong, try to be really picky and demanding and have high standards. In this step, you do judge quality and filter stuff. You get out of brainstorming mode and try to reach some conclusions.
When you look at unanswered questions, note the difference between your own answer vs. an answer the author said or would expect an educated person to know. Don’t think of your ideas as things that were in the book. And don’t think of things that were in the book as your ideas. This isn’t the most important thing about learning but it does matter. You don’t want to put words in other people’s mouths where you talk about their ideas but you’re saying ideas they don’t believe. But you also don’t wanna leave people out, and give them no credit, when you’re using ideas you learned from them. Also if you have to come up with your own original idea to answer a question, that’s a hole in the book’s reasoning, so there’s an error there. Also it’s good if you have a reasonable understanding of what the typical reader would be seeing in a book, otherwise you won’t be able to communicate with others very well.
How do you come up with questions? Try to look at what you don’t know or what more could be explained. And there are a bunch of standard or generic questions you can use to help you get started and come up with some lines of questioning, like:
- What problem does this idea solve?
- How does the idea solve the problem?
- What is the motivation for this idea?
- What sub-ideas is this idea built from?
- How do the sub-ideas fit together?
- What other ideas is this idea related to? What are the relationships? This can include both specific other ideas or whole fields.
- What are the consequences or implications of this idea?
- What are the next steps to develop this idea further?
- What are the outstanding, known problems or flaws with this idea, if any?
- Does this idea have any limitations, weaknesses or downsides?
- What background knowledge is relevant for fully understanding this idea?
- How can someone learn this idea? What steps should they take? What resources are available?
- Is it a big idea or a small idea? Is it complicated or simple?
- Has the idea been written down? Once or multiple times? Is it well known or obscure?
- When was the idea first thought of?
- Has the idea changed over time? If so, what were the changes and why?
- Are there any reasons a person might not like the idea? Might it seem bad to someone?
- Are there any common values or traditions which the idea clashes with or threatens, or might appear to?
- Are there any common misunderstandings of the idea?