Quora answer: Is it a good idea to tell people on Quora, “Your question is stupid”

Apr 07 2013

I did say that a question was stupid just a few days ago. It asked who wrote Moby Dick. I considered that a Troll type activity since the group that the question was in mentioned the author as a topic. But the Reviewers and Admins stomped on my attempting to make the stupidity of the question obvious. I found another question where someone asked who wrote War and Peace as well, but most of the Who Wrote X questions were reasonable, about things that one could wonder who wrote them. The Quora people said that they wanted questions with simple obvious answers to stand on Quora. But to me this symbolized just how bad the questions tend to be on Quora. I agree with Chadborne Whiting’s categorization of the small set that “most of the questions” on Quora fall into. I have been complaining about the questions on Quora for a long time, as well as the fact that the folks who create Quora really do not understand Questions, which is unfortunate since their entire product revolves around them.

We should either be able to down vote questions, or they should not be anonymous. I want a topic called Stupid Questions that I can place all stupid questions in so that people will know what kind of questions are discouraged. There are stupid questions. And many of them are on Quora, with equal rights with all the other questions that are not stupid but perhaps just dumb, or uninteresting, or boring, or uninformed, or biased, etc. Very seldom to I run into a question that I think is really good. Mostly I try to take bad questions and make something out of them that is interesting by giving substantive answers.

To be meaningful questions have to have problematics, or at least state their assumptions and motivations. Questions should form chains that are dialectical. Thus what is missing is the context for questions that are asked, as well as some sense that the asker really wants an answer, and has even thought about their question. Asking good questions requires some knowledge, and judging from the questions asked on Quora, either the educational level, or the intelligence level, or the interest level, or some factor is sorely missing among those who as questions on Quora. I tried to solve that early on by going into some topics and asking reasonable questions, but I noticed that those questions rarely were answered.

And that said to me that people like bad questions which require no knowledge to have an opinion about. Thus we are really low on Plato’s Divided Line, we are in the lowest level where there is ungrounded opinion for the most part. Every once in a while we get an answer that is grounded by some sort of evidence or even reasoning. Seldom to we cross the midline in the divided line into representable intelligibles. And almost never does anyone mention non-representable inteligibles. Not much has changed since Plato’s time. We are still wallowing in ungrounded opinion which are exercised by really poor questions for the most part. We should be embarrassed but it takes some knowledge to even realize that one should be embarrassed by the questions one asks even if they are anonymous. It is wrong to say that there are no stupid questions. I might have thought that before confronting the overwhelming majority of questions on quora which if not stupid, or better dumb are mostly inane.

Ok, let me be clear about the nature of better questions. Questions that carry no information are Stupid or if not stupid then Dumb. Information is surprise. So if questions to not invoke some surprise they carry no information. So a question like who wrote Moby Dick, which anyone with any education in the US should know, but even if they do not know, they should search for the answer rather than asking the question on Quora.

There has to be some doubt about the authorship for the question to have any meaning. And most questions that have the form Who wrote X? are about situations where there might be some question of authorship. But who wrote Moby Dick or Who wrote War and Peace as questions only adds insult to injury. The insult is to consider other people as search engines, which are machines. The injury is that one is cluttering up Quora with questions that need to actively be ignored.

Good questions are asked by someone who knows enough about a topic to know what they do not know, and thus they ask about what they do not know, in order to know more about the subject.

How many questions like that are there on Quora? Not many I think. Thus we are looking at a nihilistic sea of non-questions on Quora. They are questions made up just for the purpose of asking a question rather than out of any desire to know more. They do not show any study or previous experience that could either motivate the question or give a problematic into which the question fits. People do not list their assumptions, and in fact much of the answering has to do with pointing out the bias built in to questions, much of which is done on purpose, because it is so obvious.

These nihilistic questions all equal all unconnected form a plenum of blandness and there is little that stands out in this sea of poor questions. However, all the bad questions do make the occasional good question stand out. But the level of most questions is so low that even other not so bad questions stand out.

But informed questions are few and far between, and meaningful or even insightful questions are fairly rare. Silence is better than a plethora of inane questions. Good questions can be better than answers. Good questions convey information themselves rather than just soliciting information. Good questions are a sign of intelligence in the one who asks.

Right now the lowest common denominator of the questions on Quora make us believe that the intelligence quotient is not that high, as one might expect. If we just take the category of voyeuristic questions like “What does is feel like to ask a stupid question on Quora?” we can believe that soap operas are what many writers of questions spend their time watching and their voyeuristic inclinations spill over into Quora. Both the questions and the answers are similarly unenlightening. Quora is reflecting who we are, and the picture as it stands is not that good. It would be preferred that our better lights would be reflected in this mirror.

The Glass Bead Game: Let us instead think about playing Herman Hesse’s Glass Bead Game on Quora. Points are given for the most erudite and subtle and insightful question to which those who answer must stretch to answer the challenge. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Glass_Bead_Game If some of us begin to play that game then perhaps some emergent knowledge will reveal itself to us differentiating our questions and answers from the nihilistic background of inane questions and flippant answers.

If this were possible then Quora would be more than just a database of answers to Wikipedia questions and opinions, but perhaps we might rise to the level of grounded opinions, or representable intelligibles, or even unrepresentable intelligibles, so that we might experience the whole of the divided line, and actually learn something together, by playing this the most sophisticated of all games.


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