Three Types of Answer

I have spent my life in pursuit of answers. And yet, only recently have I asked a fundamental question. What exactly is an answer? After careful consideration, I have decided there are three main types of answers. They are as follows, in order from worst to best.

The first type of answer is simply any response to anything, This is the worst type of answer, because it doesn’t have to be correct or appropriate or even make sense. When you answer the phone and say, “hello,” that is the first type of answer. You could answer the phone and say, “goodbye,” and it would also be the first type of answer. You could answer the phone and say hopscotch, or beet salad, or nothing at all. Any of these responses would technically be answers. Bad answers, sure, but still answers.

The first and worst type of answer is any kind of response to anything. You could answer a burning building with a bucket of water, Or you could answer a burning building with a bucket of gasoline. Both are answers, but one is clearly better than the other.

House Fire

We should use the gas, right?

If the first type of answer is any response to anything, then the second type of answer is any correct response to an actual question. If someone asks, “What is the capitol of Uganda?” and you say, “Kampala,” then that is a type two answer. If someone asks you the sums of two and two, and you say four, that is also the second type of answer.

These are by far the most common type of answer. When most people think about what an answer is, they are thinking of type 2 answers. The bulk of our knowledge is based on the type 2 two answer. A question is asked, and the correct answer is found. That is how knowledge works.

Unfortunately, not all correct answers are easily found. And sometimes, a single question can have multiple answers, and none of them seem correct. What is the meaning of life? What happens when we die? There are no type two answers for these questions. For these, you will need to level up to type three.

A type three answer is a response that is not necessarily correct, but rather is satisfying. There are no cheat sheets or study guides for these answers.

Cheating at Cards

“But cheating is how I win!”

Some correct answers are also satisfying, but not all satisfying answers can be proven correct. A satisfying answer is an answer that doesn’t lead to more questions, and does not drum up negative emotions.

Two plus two equals four. This is a correct answer, and if all you care about is arithmetic, it is a satisfying answer too. But this simple equation can lead to more difficult questions. Is two plus two equals four the same thing as 2 + 2 = 4? When we talk about numbers, are we talking about the words, or the symbols, or the concept? At what point does that abstract of language give way to the absolutes of reality?

Persistence of Memory

Don’t think too hard about this.

These are difficult and weird questions. It would be easy to live a good life without ever knowing for sure whether numbers are actually real. There are other questions that really do matter, and are even more difficult to answer satisfactorily.

Why does anything exist? Why do good people suffer, while the wicked prosper? What is the point of anything?

All of these questions require type three answers. That is unfortunate, because they are questions with a pressing need to be answered, and satisfying answers almost always take especially long to discover.

Answering Machine

Someone should invent an answering machine!