Dis­solv­ing the Question

TagLast edit: 17 Mar 2021 19:15 UTC by abramdemski

Dissolving the question is the act of making a question no longer necessary: satisfying all associated curiosity, resolving all related confusions, but without answering the question. The classic example is the question “If a tree falls in a forest and no one hears it, does it make a sound?”. The apparent paradox of the question is, in this case, resolved by pointing out the ambiguity of the term “sound”. The question can be dissolved by distinguishing between “Sound” as referring to auditory experience and “Sound” as referring to vibrations in the air.

“Many philosophers—particularly amateur philosophers, and ancient philosophers—share a dangerous instinct: If you give them a question, they try to answer it.”—Eliezer Yudkowsky, Dissolving the Question

Sometimes a question does have a strong answer as stated, but also needs to be dissolved. This is (arguably) the case with Free Will, for example:

This is (probably) not just a case of “the other side is being silly”: there does indeed seem to be something weird about the question which deserves scrutiny.

In other words, answering the question doesn’t fully address the confusion that the question represents!

A failure mode in this step is giving justifications instead of explaining the process itself. Arguing that the reason we have an illusion of free will was that it was evolutionarily adaptive falls into this failure mode, as it doesn’t explain the cognitive algorithm which produces the feeling of free will, and so doesn’t dissolve the question. This can also be thought of as answering the “Why” instead of the “How”, or as failing to provide a gears level model.

Dissolving a question usually (always?) involves providing a cognitive reduction of the question.

See also: deconfusion, cognitive reduction

Dis­solv­ing the Question

Eliezer Yudkowsky8 Mar 2008 3:17 UTC
136 points
122 comments5 min readLW link

Were atoms real?

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24 points
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27 comments3 min readLW link

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37 points
4 comments7 min readLW link

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32 points
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16 points
10 comments1 min readLW link

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13 points
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41 points
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54 points
155 comments6 min readLW link

[SEQ RERUN] Dis­solv­ing the Question

MinibearRex20 Feb 2012 4:58 UTC
11 points
8 comments1 min readLW link

The Truth about Scots­men, or: Dis­solv­ing Fallacies

Tesseract5 Dec 2010 21:57 UTC
37 points
36 comments3 min readLW link

A bit of word-dis­solv­ing in poli­ti­cal discussion

[deleted]7 Dec 2014 17:05 UTC
7 points
40 comments8 min readLW link

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metaphysicist16 Sep 2012 19:15 UTC
−4 points
341 comments5 min readLW link

Dis­solv­ing the Prob­lem of Induction

Liron27 Dec 2020 17:58 UTC
40 points
32 comments7 min readLW link

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−12 points
10 comments12 min readLW link

Diseased think­ing: dis­solv­ing ques­tions about disease

Scott Alexander30 May 2010 21:16 UTC
517 points
357 comments9 min readLW link

Will is­sues are quite nearly skill issues

dkl927 Aug 2023 16:42 UTC
1 point
1 comment3 min readLW link

Grokking the In­ten­tional Stance

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45 points
22 comments20 min readLW link1 review

Book Re­view: Free Will

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28 points
23 comments8 min readLW link

A First At­tempt to Dis­solve “Is Con­scious­ness Re­ducible?”

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5 points
3 comments5 min readLW link