2 min read

The wrong kind of question

There are some things I enjoy explaining in some contexts, and other things and contexts I don't enjoy explaining. Even sticking to non-responsibility or non-relational explaining, there are things I don't seem to like explaining. For example: I seem to like explaining math, in some sense. On the other hand, there are lots of things called "explaining math" that I predict I wouldn't like. Why is that? What is that like?

(try bad things?)

Part of explaining things is answering questions. If you are in an interactive context and you won't do that it becomes dubious whether you're explaining things in a useful sense.

Sometimes these questions are annoying. I catch myself thinking that there is, maybe, a wrong kind of question. Even a wrong, genuinely asked and kindly meant question.

Without taking this thought as true, a loosely inspired question: What are some aspects of annoying questions about explanations?

One aspect is a question that can't be answered as such, because it involves an assumption that isn't workable. Like: "What kind of buildings do you build in Slay the Spire? Are they like A-frame houses or glass offices or stone pyramids or longhouses?" You don't build buildings in Slay the Spire, so you can't answer this question as such. This question in particular is not so bad, though.

A closely related aspect might be that it assumes a purpose I don't have. Maybe a better example would be: "What does Cantor's function let you calculate?" There could be a good answer to this, but if so I don't know it. To the extent that I'm interested in Cantor's function, it's not because I can use it to calculate something.

Another aspect is a question where the correct answer is a long story, unrelated to whatever I was interested in. Like: "What is a function?" The technically correct answer that I would like to give is totally unhelpful and likely to inspire a series of questions in just the same spirit, and it's not going to be much fun for either of us. On the other hand I find I have some resistance to giving the "wrong" answer.

That's three aspects. There may be more here to come back to another time. However, I think the interesting thing here will not be enumerating more aspects – but looking closer at these aspects. A more interesting question to ask of these might be: What might that be like, the experience of "wrong question"?