Throughout my twenty six years wandering this planet, I have encountered all sorts of interesting questions that I don't have answers to. I'm sure that I could find them if I felt like doing the research but sometimes I just like to leave things open. Makes for a great conversation starter. I'm sitting at a restaurant with some friends, we're out of movies and world events to discuss and we don't feel like turning to such boring topics as politics and health/dieting.
"If you're driving at the speed of light, and you turn the headlights on, what happens?" That's a classic question right there, one I'm sure everyone has heard before (and the fact that it's so common makes it a bit less interesting, truth be told). And I'm even more certain that somewhere in the course of history a physicist has come up with an answer. But why dig through boring science books when you and your non-physicist friends can just kick possibilities around for a few minutes? Are the headlights visible if you're driving in front of the car at the same speed, or would the light not catch up? Will the deer still give you that "deer-in-the-headlights" look before you clobber it? For that matter would you even see the deer before it turns your windshield red? Of course, something resembling common sense tells me that our brains can't process images coming at us at light speed (or that the image may not bounce off of the deer and back to your eyes in time for "sight" to occur), but that's just taking things too literally. Totally defeats the purpose of asking a question for discussion if you use common sense to kill the question in it's tracks.
Here's one of my favorite questions - Let's say that Joe gets tired of the way his native land is doing things. Maybe they're causing too few wars, or exporting everything but forgetting to import as well, causing a severe soap and/or diaper shortage. Whatever the reason, he picks up his stuff, goes out into the world and finds a nice patch of land that's not owned by anyone or anything. He decides that this will make for a fine country, and then names his new nation Canada, knowing full well that this name has already been claimed.
Now here's the interesting question - What can Canada do about this? Sure, they could start a war over it, but wars are pretty well frowned upon these days, especially if they get started over something as frivolous as a country's name. Maybe they could ask the U.N. for sanctions and trade embargos against Joe, but this may not be the newfound country's death sentence that they're aiming for (and Joe certainly won't care if he left his country over a bad trade situation). Maybe someone from Canada will just call Joe and try to reason with him.
"Hey Joe, this is the Prime Minister of Canada."
"Excuse me, but I'm the Prime Minister of Canada."
"Well you see, that's what I'm calling about, eh? We've been named Canada for quite some time and we'd really appreciate it if you chose a different name. You could be New Canada, for instance, eh? Or Joe's Canada."
"But I don't want to be New Canada or Joe's Canada. My nation's name is Canada. How about you be New Canada?"
"But we're the original Canada, not the new one!"
"Then why don't you call yourself Original Canada?"
"We shouldn't have to change our name, we were here first!"
"How about Canada Classic? You know, like the Coca-Cola thing."
"But we're Canada! It's our name, you can't just take it! It's not fair, eh!"
There are bound to be some readers who are trying to kill the whole point of this question, thinking things like "but there isn't any hospitable land in the world that isn't already claimed by a country, so there's no room for a new one! And for that matter, how can one guy alone start a new country?" Look, jackass, that's not the purpose of the question. It's just something interesting to waste some brain matter on instead of solving the Reimann-Zeta hypothesis or creating a new flat tax proposal.
One of my friends is truly horrible with these questions. I agree that logic and certainty have their place, but it can kill a conversation before it starts. I imagine that this is how philosophy started (philosophy is nothing but interesting questions). A couple of guys are tired of discussing different ways to hunt lions or get the loincloths off of the cute girls in the village, so they turn to some deeper thought in the hopes of staving off boredom.
Joe: Hey, Fred, you ever wonder if there's a true ethical code beyond the likes we humans have thought of?
Fred: Indeed I do. Is there a simple slogan to show us the way, like "whatever is for the greater good", or is morality too complex to be determined by one sentence?
Joe: Exactly! So where would we even start to figure this out?
Alan: It doesn't matter, we'll never convince anyone else to go along with it.
Fred: Alan, you're an asshole.
Just as there are a lot of interesting questions out there, there are a lot that seem interesting but really aren't. The classic one of these is "why does 7-11 have locks on their doors when they're open twenty-four hours a day?" What sort of conversation can you get out of this? One friend thinks they may be closed on holidays until you mention that you've been to a convenience store on Christmas (there's no excuse for running out of egg nog).
Besides, this question has a pretty plain answer. Even twenty-four hour convenience stores have occasion to close (say, lack of personnel or getting shut down by the health department). Plus if you watch enough of those "real crime videos" TV shows you'll eventually see that some stores have these locks set up to an alarm so the clerk can lock the robbers out if they see them coming.
So that question actually sucks. Not interesting in the least.
Now here is a great question, not in the question itself, but in the questions it spawns. So you and some friends are watching an adult film (or discussing one, if you only watch porn alone), and one of them decides to speak their mind: "what woman has sex while wearing high heels?" While this question isn't too bad in itself (I haven't known many women who like to wear heels anywhere, much less in the bedroom), the real question becomes "how did this guy (or girl) not notice that people are having sex?"
Now that's a truly mind boggling question. You have presumably two people (although any number from one to several dozen aren't uncommon) engaging in some form of (possibly perverse) fornication on a television or movie screen before them. Most (if not all) men and a fair number (if not most) women will be engrossed by this, since enjoyment of the nude human form (and to some freaks, non-humans as well) and spying on some form of sexual copulation is considered an enjoyable past time. Generally, the only comments you'll hear are relating to the adult thespians, such as "she has a great (female body part of choice)", or "he has a huge (male body part of choice)". Occasionally someone watching will take the role of porn film director, saying "faster, baby" or "slow down, baby" or "take it, baby". And if complaints are issued, they're usually directed towards the sexual content, like "not enough (preferred sex act)" or "way too much (disfavored sex act)". Finally, if someone really wants to state the obvious, they simply say "the acting in this is truly horrible".
And then there's that guy (generally me) (or girl (not me)) who suddenly quits caring that people are fucking and their brain decides to notice something that has little (if anything) to do with sex, and then announce it to anyone who will pay attention.
"I mean, seriously guys, this isn't very realistic sex if she keeps the high heels on.."
"Dude, who cares?"
"Well, I don't really care - "
"Then shut up!"
By this time, the damage is done. Your brain isn't concentrating 100% on the porn either. While you may be questioning the choice in footwear yourself, you're more than likely wondering about your friend's mental state. "Why did this guy notice?" you ask yourself, "was the sex on screen not interesting enough? Is he completely asexual? Does he have a shoe and/or foot fetish? Or is he really concerned with realistic sex in porn movies like he said?"
I once posed this question to a guy I worked with some time back and accidentally ruined pornography for him. Every time he saw someone tear a lady's pantyhose apart in an effort to get down to business a little quicker, something in his mind shouted "bullshit" and he couldn't watch the movie any more. If you want to know why this is unrealistic, ask your wife/girlfriend how they would react to their hose being destroyed for sex.
If you're anything like me, and God help you if you are, discussing a question can be more fun than getting the answer. In fact, getting the answer can completely destroy the fun. Answers are for scientists and people who fear uncertainty. As a general rule, I thrive on uncertainty.
Back in my college days I took my first philosophy class, and the teacher used the semester to run us through the most staggering questions and problems in the field. He even warned people that some things we would discuss could end up bothering us. Only one student seemed bothered at any time: upon the teacher's lecture on David Hume and his reasoning, he demonstrated that we could not prove our own existence. Not humanity as a whole, our individual existence. One student seemed to have a mild nervous breakdown right then and there, and ended up dropping the class.
Personally, I know I can't prove my existence, I know I'm not smart enough to solve this centuries-old problem, and I think the fact that it's completely up in the air is pretty fucking cool.
To me, that's the point in these interesting questions. Not to answer them with certainty, but to have fun ruminating the possible answers. In the end, since my friends and I are no philosophers and will likely never get any real solutions to these problems, it may be a waste of time.
But I'd rather waste time like this than drinking myself into oblivion any day.
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