5. Question of the day

Do questions need answers?

Stephen Dubner and James Altucher get meta with that topic in a recent episode of “Question of the day.”

Spoiler alert, they don’t answer that question, which is in a way kind of a meta-answer.

The reason for that question is a few of the 1-star reviews they get on iTunes noted that they don’t always answer their questions. Is that OK?

When I posted this two years ago, a philosophy professor at Marquette University responded: “Clearly you weren’t paying attention in your philosophy courses, or you would have figured it out ten years earlier.” Touché.

Let me interpret what I think that question is actually asking. I think it means, Do questions need one definitive answer right now?

In other words, if I ask you something face to face, do you feel compelled to provide an answer right away?

Well, it depends on the question. “What should we have for dinner?” can be more pressing and answerable than “What’s the meaning of life?”

But as Dubner explains in Freakonomics, we’re all conditioned to feel like we need to respond with immediate and credible-sounding answers, even if we have no clue:

Dubner talks to Amanda Waterman, a professor of developmental psychology at the University of Leeds. Much of her research (gated papers here and here) is about people’s unwillingness — especially children’s unwillingness — to say “I don’t know.” Waterman has found that the vast majority of kids pretend they know the answer to unanswerable questions.
WATERMAN: It has varied between studies, but you’d be looking at two-thirds to three-quarters of children — and we’re talking in the age range here of about five to eight years old — would say ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to a yes/no question that we know they don’t know the answer to.

In other words, we B.S. even if we don’t really know.

We’re used to the one correct answer that’s on the test, and our experience often teaches us that looking for more than one correct answer or delaying our response can be detrimental.

The ACT and SAT have time limits — you can’t think of different possible answers not listed or get back to you later. We need to know now!!

So to bring us back to the question, “Do questions need answers?”

I’ll attempt to answer that question with another question. SO META.

Do answers need questions? (And not just on Jeopardy!)

Here’s my take.

If you’re going to ask a question or have an answer, you at least have to be willing to explore where it goes.

Answers need the exploration of questions, or they’re not really answers at all.

Questions need the exploration of answers, or they’re not really questions at all.

But the answers you come up with may surprise you. The list of answers can include:

“I was asking the wrong question.”

“There’s more than one right answer to this question.”

“I have to do more research. I’ll get back to you.”

“There’s no right answer to this question.”


“I don’t know.”

Should you subscribe to my weekly newsletter? The answer is YES.

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.