What Brings Intellectual Progress?

Robin Hanson considers where intellectual progress comes from:

most … idea dealers seem to define themselves mostly in terms of the answers they want to promote, instead of the questions they want to answer. Most idea-oriented Facebook status updates seem like this – saying yay for some answer they agree with. The few that deal in questions also seem to be mainly promoting them, saying yay for the sort of people who like that question.

… my guess is that most intellectual progress comes from people who focus on a question to which they do not currently know the answer, and then try to answer

… few academics are able to articulate in much detail why it is important to the world that their questions get answered.

So the important intellectual progress comes down to the rather small fraction of intellectuals who both define their focus in terms of a question, rather than an answer, and who bother to think about what questions actually matter.

So, Hanson says, ask questions that matter. Or, be curious about important stuff.

Not everyone is chiefly interested in gaining intellectual understanding – it is one desire among others. So not everyone puts a top emphasis on intellectual progress.  That is why affiliating with answers, rather than being curious about questions, is common.

If intellectual progress comes from curiosity (asking questions that matter), but if curiosity is fairly limited and often in short supply, where does curiosity come from?


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