What Question Should I Ask?

While making dinner tonight, I reflected that I eat a lot of rice — about 300 pounds per year. I really like rice!

It suddenly occurred to me to type the following search term into Google:

how many pounds of rice does an american eat each year

I used to carefully type in search strings, using quotes and OR's and all the other Google goodies, but I've seen that my wife gets results quite quickly by just typing in her question. I did so in this case and almost immediately discovered that the average American eats around 25 pounds of rice per year.

It's amazing how much the Internet knows! (Science fiction fans will note that it's getting to be like the fictional computer Shalmaneser in John Brunner's novel Stand on Zanzibar.) How did we get by in the days when a simple question about rice required a week's research at the library?

The internet sure is smart! Much, much smarter than me. But ... is it in any sense aware of anything? Not in a human sense. Not even in an insect sense. Is it aware in any sense?

Once I started musing along these lines I tried this query on Google:

qualia "what is it like to be the internet" OR "does the internet have qualia"

To my utter astonishment, Google returned only two hits. One of the appearances was an apparently dead link and the other was an article that mentioned that the question was asked at a “Rationally Speaking” seminar. I get the distinct impression that the question wasn't taken very seriously.

What stuns me is that the question is asked so rarely. We don't know what qualia is, exactly, but apparently we're so certain about what it is (or isn't) that we can scarcely imagine that the internet might have it in some way.

Okay, so maybe I'm just wacky, asking stupid questions. If that's the case then the lack of results simply demonstrates how nutty I am. However, my next search really puzzled me:

"does an insect have qualia"

No hits. Not even one.

This isn't the first time I've written an article about questions that aren't being asked. But now that I've come to this point, I have to wonder which questions I haven't been asking that I need to ask!

How on earth does someone find the answer to the question, “Which questions do I need to ask?”

I suppose I could just ask the internet. But it seems to be a bit biased.

1 comment:

  1. Qualia are a rarified topic. I think only David Chalmers believes in them. So you'd hardly expect a lot about them. The internet has qualia in the same way that you or i do.