Saturday, August 18, 2012


Many little kids go through a stage of asking "Why?" Of the famous reporter's questions of






that fourth one, "Why?", is the richest one, the most powerful tool, in a way.  If I ask "What happened?  and you tell me that the sheep got out of the pen, that answer pretty well satisfies that question.  If I again ask "What?", you might assume I didn't hear clearly or didn't understand or am simply expressing surprise.  You might repeat what you said but the question simply repeats itself.

But "Why?" has special potency.  I remember the force of a paragraph in Edward Boring's A History of Experimental Psychology in answer to the question "Why is the tree growing there?"  One set of answers can be confined to human choices such as because my father liked this farm and bought it and my mother wanted an apple tree there and planted one.  Another set is about processes of nature, such as the planted seed was fertile and lucky, not being eaten or destroyed and the rain and sun and soil richness were right for apple tree growth.  Of course there are many other possible avenues for answers such as people like apple trees and protect them and no elephants fought above it and trampled it.

The real fascination with "Why?" comes from its power to naturally chain.  Without understanding the grammar or semantics, a little kid can stumble on the 2nd or the 3rd Why having a focus on a new target.  "The tree grows here because here there is good sunlight".  Why?  Because there are no cliffs - why? and we are into geology and earth's processes.  Because no elephants trampled it - why? and we are into biology and the distribution and needs and drives of pachyderms.  One why leads to another and there seems to be no end.  Further, the whys leap in a fascinating and educational way through knowledge and the world.

I am making steady use of Seligman's exercise of writing three good things that happened each day.  That part is easy.  But, the attempt to say Why they happened is much more difficult, endless really.  That part, trying to say why something happened, brings to mind American life, online communication, shipping and delivery methods, my personality and its strengths and faults, who I love, etc., etc.  I confess that I have moved to listing the goods, which I get better and better at recognizing.  But I list reasons for them happening less often, although I do that part less often.  When the reason is positive about me (I have strength, imagination, etc.), I don't shy away from recognizing that truth fully but calmly.  But WHY is always vague and complex, murky and twisty.

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