A Secret About Questions


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A Secret About Questions

I have a secret I recently learned about questions and I want to share it here.

I put this in "Tips for Everyday Living" because this secret can impact your everyday life, just as it did mine.

Here's the secret. And it is a secret although many people already know it. I know I should do a Hollywood build-up, but this one hit me too hard to want to fancy it up. So here goes:

The human brain automatically responds to questions.

I don't know the physiological or biological reasons for this. I didn't learn this secret studying a science paper. But I have found it to be true. I gradually became aware of it studying persuasion techniques from a variety of places. It finally became very clear to me while listening to a Tony Robbins tape on sales motivation.

How do persuaders use this secret? Easy. A question automatically focuses the attention of a target on a topic the questioner chooses. (Do you like how I am now asking you questions? Heh.)

The brain can't stop itself from automatically focusing when a question is asked. It is true that a person can tune out an entire message, but his brain can't be passive to a question that is in a message he is paying attention to—even if the response is something like, "I refuse to contemplate that."

So a trained persuader will ask a question to focus a target's mind on something he wants the target to think about and/or do. There's a lot of sneaky stuff I have read regarding how they use this, too. But those techniques are beyond the scope of what I want to say here. My main purpose is actually a question:

How can we use this secret to improve our lives?

And, to me, this is the good part. The trick is to ask good questions.

If someone asks you a bunch of poor questions, irritation soon sets in. Your brain automatically gives one poor response after another. You can't do that all day and not be affected. A good example is the way parents ultimately get cross with a child who constantly asks, "Why?" to everything. Their brains can't help but try to produce the answers, but they know there are no answers to many of the questions. Also, the child is often horsing around trying to get a reaction instead of asking for actual information. A question interrupts their inner dialog with themselves over nonsense. Then again. Then again. Then again... Then boom!

So how can we use this every day? That's easy, too, as I found out.

All decent marketing materials mention at some point that your attitude will be greatly influenced by the things you surround yourself with. That goes for the thoughts you hold in awareness. In other words, if you hold good positive information in your mind, your attitude will be positive. You will strive harder to achieve your goals as a result. If you focus on mostly negative stuff and only hang out with chronic complainers, you will be down on life and very likely your productivity will suffer.

Here's the rub in choosing the good stuff, though. You have oodles of information stored in your memory. And it's a mess in terms of organization. The good, the bad, the ugly, the useful, the trivial, the sacred, the profane. It's all over the place. In order to bring it to the surface (conscious awareness) according to a standard, you have to tell it to come up. Or you have to tell your subconscious to find certain stuff and shove it up into awareness.

The very best way nature gives us to do this through a filter is to ask questions. If you ask something specific of the brain, it will give you something specific back.

Now what happens if you ask a garbage question? Obviously, the brain will automatically give you garbage information. And if you ask a good question? You get good information, of course.

One of the worst things you can do to yourself is to keep asking questions you know you can't possibly answer.

Why don't those people drive faster?

What's wrong with that jerk?

Why is this happening to me?

Why can't people just do the right thing?

How could he possibly think that?

And so on...

There's no way you can know why "those people" don't drive faster (presuming no one is in front of them). Maybe their car has trouble. Maybe they are getting sick. Maybe they are learning how to drive. Maybe they are rip-roaring assholes. There's know way you can know. And your brain knows it, too. So it loops in one false answer back to the question, back to another false answer and back to the question, and so on until you are nothing but good and mad at the world.

The same goes for the other questions. All they do is make you upset and frustrated. And you can't turn your brain off so long as the question is there.

I caught myself this morning doing this. I was feeling terrible. Depressed and irritable. I kept asking in my mind, "Why do I have to feel bad like this?" "Why won't this go away?" "Why bother?" And so on...

Then I thought, on looking at it, these questions sound like pure garbage. No wonder I feel bad. Let me try a different question. So I asked myself, "What can I do to feel better?"

Whamaroonie!

Just by asking that question, I immediately started to feel better. Then some pleasant ideas started coming. There actually were some things I could do to feel better, starting with thinking about an Internet template I am working on.

And I sat staring for a bit, absolutely astonished.

Dayaamm! It worked!

:)

The truth is it didn't last too long since my depression was a bit deep. But when the good vibes started fading, I asked myself once again, "What can I do to feel better?"

Bam! Up again.

I asked my brain a good question and it responded automatically with a good response.

How cool is that? I'll tell you how cool. It doesn't get any cooler for me. I like it. A lot.

So now what?

I don't know about you, but I'm taking this one to the bank. I've already started planning an Internet marketing project around it.

Why don't you give it a try? (Assuming you don't already do this.) I'm interested in hearing how this works when others do it.

This also got me to speculating about why intelligent grownups with good hearts hold on so strongly to bad ideas—to bad philosophies.

And I got to thinking that maybe the quality of the ideas is not the problem at all. Maybe those ideas are more the result than the cause.

Maybe the real problem (or one of the main problems, anyway) is the quality of the questions they keep asking.

Michael

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Interesting, Michael.

I can attest to the irritation of the continuous "whys?" I might try the simple "what can you do to feel better?" approach for some of my co-workers that are in a slump.

~ Shane

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Shane,

Here is what I have been thinking on a political level. It's a bit oversimplified, but I see it all over the place.

Notice that when people ask, "Why doesn't someone do something about poverty?", there is an easy answer and even reasonable people adhere to it (since the brain has to respond with something): pass a law and take a little bit from everyone to redistribute to the poor. Make everybody chip in. This goes by all kinds of names, but that is essentially what it is.

The person who asks: "What can I do about poverty?" does not go this route. His brain answers for him to first get himself out of poverty (or makes sure he is not in it) by working, then employ a lot of others. That gets them and their families out of poverty better than any other solution on earth.

I wonder what would happen if the question:

"Why doesn't someone do something about poverty?"

were countered with another question:

"What can you do about poverty? I mean you personally?"

instead of an argument. With fanatics, I don't see it making a dent (the brain has to respond, but they don't have brains :) ), but I do see it impacting reasonable people.

Michael

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MSK, your point about the importance of asking questions is a good one. I wish more Oists understood how to do that in trying to persuade people or the philosophy instead of delivering long-winded, browbeating lectures.

Questions can assess where you are: "Do you disagree? Do you understand what I mean by rational egoism? Do you think having a theory of ethics is important? Why not? How do you answer these questions?"

They can make the other party think: "How do you -know- there is a God? If he speaks to other people how come he's never spoken to you? What would the world be like if everyone were an altruist? Do you want someone to love you, marry you -purely- altruistically? ..."

They can show that you want the other party's participation, and don't intend to deliver a monologue (so they can take a nap).

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Just a historical note: Did you notice the similarity between the particular question about poverty, and Barbara Branden's comment, cited by Ayn Rand, on the question about

"What should be done about the poor"

and Barbara Branden's answer being, as reported by Rand

"If you want to help them, you won't be stopped."

The same sort of thing there. Turning it from a "what should some other third party, or a collective (government, society or even an unstated collective)" to "what will you do?"

Regards,

Bill P

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Just a historical note: Did you notice the similarity between the particular question about poverty, and Barbara Branden's comment, cited by Ayn Rand, on the question about

"What should be done about the poor"

and Barbara Branden's answer being, as reported by Rand

"If you want to help them, you won't be stopped."

The same sort of thing there. Turning it from a "what should some other third party, or a collective (government, society or even an unstated collective)" to "what will you do?"

Regards,

Bill P

My memory may be failing me here, but I think Barbara is no longer cherry with this answer.

--Brant

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Just a historical note: Did you notice the similarity between the particular question about poverty, and Barbara Branden's comment, cited by Ayn Rand, on the question about

"What should be done about the poor"

and Barbara Branden's answer being, as reported by Rand

"If you want to help them, you won't be stopped."

The same sort of thing there. Turning it from a "what should some other third party, or a collective (government, society or even an unstated collective)" to "what will you do?"

Regards,

Bill P

My memory may be failing me here, but I think Barbara is no longer cherry with this answer.

--Brant

I have a similar impression.

Bill P

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This might have been bopping around in my subconscious when I mentioned it, but that is not my point. My focus here is on the subliminal effect of a question. Rand answered with a statement. I wonder how much more powerful her response would have been (in terms of general impact on the public) if she had framed it as a question or added a question to it.

I remember from Sunday School classes when I was young a teacher saying one of the most powerful methods of Jesus's teaching is that he always answered a question with a question.

It certainly seems to work in terms of persuasion. I think I see why, now.

Michael

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Yes, but why do you always have to answer a question with a question? :lol:

Reminds me of when my wife and I were raising our daughter. We sort of expected the terrible twos, the tantrum threes, the frustrating fours, etc. etc. etc. We were expecting the age of "WHY?", so, from the time she was born, we never asked "Why" out loud about anything, using the phrase "How come" instead. Wouldn't you know it. When she hit that age, it was "How come this" and "How come that". Can you win for losin'?

Edited by Steve Gagne
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  • 3 weeks later...

A Secret About Questions

I have a secret I recently learned about questions and I want to share it here.I caught myself this morning doing this. I was feeling terrible. Depressed and irritable. I kept asking in my mind, "Why do I have to feel bad like this?" "Why won't this go away?" "Why bother?" And so on...

Then I thought, on looking at it, these questions sound like pure garbage. No wonder I feel bad. Let me try a different question. So I asked myself, "What can I do to feel better?"

Whamaroonie!

Just by asking that question, I immediately started to feel better. Then some pleasant ideas started coming. There actually were some things I could do to feel better, starting with thinking about an Internet template I am working on.

And I sat staring for a bit, absolutely astonished.

Dayaamm! It worked!

:)

The truth is it didn't last too long since my depression was a bit deep. But when the good vibes started fading, I asked myself once again, "What can I do to feel better?"

Bam! Up again.

I asked my brain a good question and it responded automatically with a good response.

How cool is that? I'll tell you how cool. It doesn't get any cooler for me. I like it. A lot.

So now what?

I don't know about you, but I'm taking this one to the bank. I've already started planning an Internet marketing project around it.

Truly enjoyed the article and I absolutely love, love, love the inner voice and the persistence of those questions so many people ask themselves but choose to ignore and to never answer. Not all but there's a lot out there that never follow through on it when asking themselves questions. Always the whats and whys of it all and why they do what they do, LOI and LOC. Your signature of Know Thyself speaks volumes....all else seems to follow thereafter. Questions that once were difficult to answer or possibly viewed as garbage questions become easier to answer and draw a conclusion on. If you can't answer one question, always ask another question and approach it from a different angle just as you've indicated. Even if the question is at first answered incorrectly based on the knowledge you possess at that time, the persistence of those questions and approaching it from all angles will eventually narrow down to the correct answer. The questions will never stop and continually build on to each other, the hierarchy of knowledge. I know there are those that snicker at such an idea but I have also found just as you have that this is what works for me in regards to "my" whats and whys!!

Great article!!!

LOL...I wonder if I can get this damn quote thing to work. been here forever but still a damn newbie...Oi

Edited by CNA
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I would like to know more about the ontology of questions. Obviously, there is a syntactic difference between a question and a statement, even for languages that do not have our structures. The rising (or falling) of the tone of voice, or a certain "marker" to denote a question serves the same purpose. To me, the link to whatever is in the brain -- more of a giant "gland" than a digital computer -- must trigger curiosity. The attraction of the unknown is different from the stimulus of food or sex. The unknown is dangerous. At some level predator can become prey -- when I was a kid, the local paper ran snapshots of a grasshopper at the local zoo eating a preying mantiss; "It happens sometimes," said the curator. Sex of course is death, too, for the male mantiss as for other males. Even allowing for that, however -- and perhaps that is, indeed, the kernel of the motivation for curiosity -- it seems that for higher animals, curiosity is a separate drive. It seemingly evolved differently. Curiosity killed the cat. No one accuses dogs or cows of curiosity.

For humans, our intellectual evolution has accelerated since the invention of writing, so much so, that is perhaps now impossible to disentangle the skeins and threads of the effect of literacy on the human mind. It may be -- following Julian Jaynes -- that writing caused personality. That is all the more curious :rolleyes: when you consider that literacy was an outgrowth of numeracy: accounting antedates poetry by a thousand years.

So, one theory would be that "how much?" and "how many?" are compelling.

The word "what" -- seemingly simple -- is actually a compound, the neutral of "who". Perhaps identifying "who" is fundamental to our interests ... or perhaps the etymologists overlook the objective inference that a "who" is just another kind of "what".

In any event, your essay on Questions raised more questions.

Thanks!

MEM

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  • 3 months later...

Wowza! Thanks for bring this up to awareness again Michael! :) The human brain never stops working and it's said that should it be attached to the right electrical transformer, it could jump start a car! How cool is that???

And you know what, the questions doesn't even have to necessarily answered with a verbal response. What is it? Emotions. Your facial expression changes, body language, everything starts falling in place when you focus on something. I've read somewhere in the Ayn Rand lexicon of a term they use in IT... GiGo - garbage in, garbage out.

Am having a continuous train of positive thoughts because I just asked myself, "What do I need to do to get a better job (than this one)?" and the answer, which I'll keep to myself but we all know gave me that boost of morale.

Edited by David Lee
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For humans, our intellectual evolution has accelerated since the invention of writing, so much so, that is perhaps now impossible to disentangle the skeins and threads of the effect of literacy on the human mind. It may be -- following Julian Jaynes -- that writing caused personality. That is all the more curious :rolleyes: when you consider that literacy was an outgrowth of numeracy: accounting antedates poetry by a thousand years.

So, one theory would be that "how much?" and "how many?" are compelling.

The word "what" -- seemingly simple -- is actually a compound, the neutral of "who". Perhaps identifying "who" is fundamental to our interests ... or perhaps the etymologists overlook the objective inference that a "who" is just another kind of "what".

In any event, your essay on Questions raised more questions.

Thanks!

MEM

Michael:

Good points. I would disagree about the accounting, although I am sure you had a pixieish [new word ?] thought when it was being typed.

Lyrical and oral poetic songs existed way before "writings." However, music and math swirling around the dance floor of man's mine...

Adam

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