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      I started reading this and almost bailed after the first section or so, but I scrolled over the rest, a section title (how to get information: ask yes/no questions) happened to catch my eye, and I’m glad I read a little more.

      It gave me something to reflect on. I’m not really satisfied with the ROI I get from asking questions, and it has been nagging me a little. I’ve wondered if it’s just an average question-asking experience, or because of how I ask them, or because I obsessively research them into the ground before asking and end up with hard questions.

      I haven’t really broken out the magnifying glass, but I suspect I don’t ask many yes/no questions; I’ll have to be approach it a bit more intentionally and see how it goes.

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        It depends. If you tend to research deeply the question on your side, you could be so deep in it that you do not take the time to set your level of knowledge and the mental model you construct on your side, before asking your hard questions. Most of the time, from my experience, the lack of context of knowledge and understanding is a limiting factor to give the right level of skills in an out of the blue hard question. Especially if you are know to have a curious mind.

        Learning a bit if Chinese made me realize that the yes/no questions format may need a bit of work to get used to in my fluently speaking languages (English, French). In Mandarin, you put 嗎 (ma5, ㄇㄚ·) at the end of your sentences to transform it in a yes/no question. In latin language, the interrogation particles (Why, what, how, which, where) do not really provide this dynamic. Informally, you may put an interrogation mark at the end of a sentence to have the same effect and adding: right?, Is it correct?. You have to force the person your speaking to in an yes/no frameset that may fill more challenging or confrontational.

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          Maybe you should rely on Cunningham’s law when you interact in English (on the internet). Just make your predicate question into a statement of fact and wait for someone to dispute you. This could have bad consequences if you are close to the truth and there are not many people who can correct you but generally this seems to work alright.

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          In Mandarin, you put 嗎 (ma5, ㄇㄚ·) at the end of your sentences to transform it in a yes/no question.

          Isn’t it 吗 instead?

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            I wrote it in traditional characters and you wrote it in simplified characters (ie I am learning from a Taiwanese source where the traditional characters are used as in Hong gong and Singapore ; simplified characters are used in Mainland China).

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        I am the same with respect to going too deep and then making a question that is too specific to my mental state after the dive.

        Most often what I really want when I go “to ask questions” is to talk with someone about all the stuff I read, often it helps frame the weights people place on different things and helps you see how the actual relation graph between the concepts is oriented in the minds of “insiders”.

        If I read for days then I will come out with not much more than confusion unless I then spend weeks working through some applications of the concepts but if I get one or two good conversations (on the order of hours or even minutes) it can save me so much pain that I would otherwise have to endure (and lets be honest: I probably will not have the wherewithal to spend those weeks, rather, if the concept is interesting then I will be coming back to it for months or years before it settles).

        Really what I would love is for there to be a very conversational and inclusive culture that you could gain access to if you can give some proof of reading in your first few back-and-forths. So far the best example of this ideal (that I have encountered) is #cl-school on freenode, they are very respectful, knowledgeable and patient. There are some other examples of such communities but I believe that if we had better social networking tools this would be the norm.

        Framing your questions in terms of predicates is a good idea, that way you can also design experiments for yourself and it sounds like a pretty reasonable framework for knowledge acquisition. I should try to operate in this way. However, most of the questions I want to ask are exactly the ones I have trouble phrasing, if I can phrase them I usually am also most of the way towards finding a solution.