Why question_crop

OPINION23 May 2018

Unasked questions

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Behavioural science Impact Opinion UK

It is important to ask childish ‘why’ questions to avoid lazy assumptions and get to genuine insight writes Rory Sutherland.

How many hours are spent annually trying to answer the question ‘Why do people drink Coke rather than Pepsi?’ My guess is that it runs into five figures. Added together, millions of hours must be spent each year in debating the minutiae of consumer choice – or in pursuing hair-splitting distinctions between competing brands. But there’s another category of questions that never gets asked because we assume we know the answer – and, often, we assume this because of the lazy use of the word ‘why?’

Interestingly, evolutionary biologists are very careful about questions that start with ‘why’, because they know they can be answered on different levels. ‘Why do we drink when we are thirsty?’ can be answered with anything from ‘because it’s enjoyable’ to ‘because organisms possessed of a drive to stay well hydrated enjoy a fitness advantage, enabling them to out-compete those that don’t’.

Biologist Ernst Mayr argued in 1961 that biology contains ...