john_r_skoyles's picture
researcher in the evolution of human intelligence in the light of recent discoveries about the brain
Why is it only amongst adults in the Western world that has tradition been so insistently and constantly challenged by the raising of Edge questions?


Why do we ask Edge questions?

Why do we ask Edge questions that challenge the "anesthesiology" of accepted wisdom and so the traditional answers we are given as to who and what we are? In most societies, accepted wisdom is to be respected not questioned, and who and what we are have long been decided by custom, elders, social betters and the sacred word of God. Moreover, why is it that the asking of Edge questions has only thrived and been encouraged in Western societies (with the help of such individuals as Socrates and the contributors to this Edge project)?

Children it should be noted readily ask Edge-type questions. The problem is that they stop when they become adults except in the civilization (with a few ups and downs) that started in Classical Greece — Western civilization.

"Are all our beliefs in gods, a myth, a lie foolishly cherished, while blind hazard rules the world?" That perhaps is the first Edge question (Euripides, Hecabe, lines 490-491) — and importantly a question not raised safely in private but before a large audience. Indeed, Euripides raised it to gain public reward. Greek playwrights wrote plays for competitions that were judged by ten randomly selected members of the audience — and given Euripides wanted to win — he must have believed that the average Greek would be hearing this Edge question raised about the Gods.

The public exploring of Edge questions is rare outside Western societies. Instead, "what was finally persuasive was appeal to established authority", and that, "the authority of tradition came to have more convincing effect than even direct observation and personal experience" (Robert Oliver, Communication And Culture In Ancient India And China, 1971). And as the Japanese scholar Hajime Nakamura noted, the Chinese "insisted that the traditional sacred books are more authoritative than knowledge based upon sense and inference" (Ways Of Thinking Of Eastern Peoples, 1964). Job might seem to be asking the Edge question "Why do the just suffer and the wicked flourish?" But the story of Job is not about rewarding Edge questioning but faith in the wisdom of God: "Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge".

This Edge question might be criticized as Eurocentric. But it was Western intellectuals that first asked the Edge question about whether ones own culture might be privileged falsely over others and so invented the idea of ethnocentricity.

So my Edge question is this: why is it only amongst adults in the Western world that has tradition been so insistently and constantly challenged by the raising of Edge questions?