Robin Hanson considers that if you want to probe someone’s intellectual endeavors/pursuits, you should frame a question you ask them a certain way:
I know many folks who consider themselves intellectuals. I guess they think that in part because if you asked them “What have you been up to lately?,” they’d tell you about books, articles, blogs, or twitter feeds that they’ve been reading. Or perhaps TED talks they’ve watched. This is why I prefer the question “What have you been thinking about lately?” And I’ll usually be a bit disappointed if the answer isn’t about a question they’ve been trying to answer.
Yes perhaps if they just mention a topic, that really stands for some questions about that topic. But often people thinking about a topic are mostly trying to find more supporting evidence for things they already believe. Less often are they taking what I consider the most productive intellectual strategy: focus on an important question where you don’t know the answer.
Indeed, “Once you start to think about a question, you’ll probably soon start to break it down into supporting sub-questions.”
So, what have you been thinking about lately?
(hat tip: Ben Casnocha)