Thursday, May 26, 2005

The Pi of Why?

Every child discovers at some point the mischievous power of why? It’s the Mobius strip of questions. Eat your green beans. Why? Because they’re good for you. Why? They’ve got vitamins and nutrients and stuff. Why? Their seeds were designed to make them that way. Why? It’s all part of God’s plan. Why? Because He cares for you and he wants you to grow big and strong. Why? Because He loves you, damn it! Now eat your beans!


You get the point.

A friend of mine told me this anecdote about Gertrude Stein, the writer, and William James, the psychologist and philosopher (and brother of Henry James): Gertrude Stein was a student in James’ philosophy class. At the end of the year, the final exam James prepared for his students contained the single, one-word question, Why? Nothing else. Most of the class madly went through reams of paper and pounds of lead giving their answer, doubtless drawing from the wisdom of Plato, Aristotle, Spinoza, Hume, Voltaire and all the rest. Gertrude Stein merely wrote, “Why not?” and left early. She received an A.

But was that cheating? Should you answer a question with a question? If you ask me, I think it’s just being clever. So, if why not? isn’t really the answer to why?, then what is? Is the question why? infinite like pi, an irrational number, or is there really a bottom to the well? Is there an ultimate answer, like “yes,” or “asparagus,” or “Charles Nelson Reilly”? Or does it just go on ad infinitum?

Here’s another set of questions almost as good as why?: So what do you think? interchanged with its fraternal twin, So how does that make you feel? Alternate them and see the results: So what do you think? I think it looks like a rash. So how does that make you feel? Kinda itchy. So what do you think? I probably shouldn't scratch it. So how does that make you feel? Even itchier. So what do you think? I think I'll scratch just a little. So how does that make you feel? Pretty damn good. Pass me that wire brush and belt sander, willya?

Socially awkward people inept at small talk should use why?, so what do you think? and so how does that make you feel? at parties. It’s almost like a Jedi mind trick. I will guarantee that by the end of the night these very same people will achieve a popularity they never dreamed possible. Pretty dull party, huh, buddy? Why? All anyone wants to talk about here is their stock portfolio. So how does that make you feel? I dunno. Kinda inadequate, I guess. So what do you think? I makes me realize that I should consider my future security. Why? Because someday I’ll be old and unable to work and I’ll need some wealth to see me through. So how does that make you feel? It makes me feel glad we had this little chat. This is just what I needed to get me on the right path. So what do you think? I think you changed my life! You’re a goddamn genius! Are you free Sunday? I want you to meet all my friends.

I’ll let everyone in on a little secret I’ve discovered: if you want to be known as a good conversationalist, all you need to do is ask people questions about themselves. And whenever they ask anything about you, politely deflect their questions and bring the subject of the conversation back to them. People love to talk about themselves and need only the slightest bit of interest shown in them. This is how I get through parties where I’m forced to mix with strangers. That and sports. Find someone who’s interested in football or baseball and you’re golden. Or at least for me.

But never forget the power of why?


Blogger NYPinTA said...


10:16 AM  
Blogger NYPinTA said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

10:16 AM  
Blogger trinamick said...

Well, crap, she took my thought.

How does it make me feel? Well, since you asked...

12:05 PM  
Blogger NYPinTA said...

i couldn't believe I was first actually.

1:28 PM  
Blogger LucyDDCF said...

Why is a great question, that is unless of course you have a small child!

9:29 AM  
Blogger pint size said...

i hope you never pull that on me....*ooff* father/daughter talks...meh

8:11 AM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

BTW, "how come?" works just as well.

12:10 PM  

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