Useful Questions Repository

See also: Bor­ing Ad­vice Re­pos­i­tory, Solved Prob­lems Re­pos­i­tory, Grad Stu­dent Ad­vice Re­pos­i­tory, Use­ful Con­cepts Re­pos­i­tory, Bad Con­cepts Repository

I just got back from the July CFAR work­shop, where I was a guest in­struc­tor. One use­ful piece of ra­tio­nal­ity I started pay­ing more at­ten­tion to as a re­sult of the work­shop is the idea of use­ful ques­tions to ask in var­i­ous situ­a­tions, par­tic­u­larly be­cause I had been in­tro­duced to a new one:

“What skill am I ac­tu­ally train­ing?”

This is a ques­tion that can be asked when­ever you’re prac­tic­ing some­thing, but more gen­er­ally it can also be asked when­ever you’re do­ing some­thing you do fre­quently, and it can help you no­tice when you’re prac­tic­ing a skill you weren’t in­tend­ing to train. Some ex­am­ples of when to use this ques­tion:

  • You prac­tice a piece of mu­sic so quickly that you con­sis­tently make mis­takes. What skill are you ac­tu­ally train­ing? How to play with mis­takes.

  • You teach stu­dents math by putting them in a class­room and hav­ing them take notes while a lec­turer talks about math. What skill are you ac­tu­ally train­ing? How to take notes.

  • A per­sonal ex­am­ple: at the work­shop, I no­ticed that I was more ap­pre­hen­sive about the idea of singing in pub­lic than I had pre­vi­ously thought I was. After walk­ing out­side and ac­tu­ally singing in pub­lic for a lit­tle, I had a hy­poth­e­sis about why: for the past sev­eral years, I’ve been singing in pub­lic when I don’t think any­one is around but stop­ping when I saw peo­ple be­cause I didn’t want to bother them. What skill was I ac­tu­ally train­ing by do­ing that? How to not sing around peo­ple.

Many of the les­sons of the se­quences can also be pack­aged as use­ful ques­tions, like “what do I be­lieve and why do I be­lieve it?” and “what would I ex­pect to see if this were true?”

I’d like to in­vite peo­ple to post other ex­am­ples of use­ful ques­tions in the com­ments, hope­fully to­gether with an ex­pla­na­tion of why they’re use­ful and some ex­am­ples of when to use them. As usual, one use­ful ques­tion per com­ment for vot­ing pur­poses.