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wundayatta's avatar

Why do people ask highly improbable "what if" questions?

Asked by wundayatta (58568points) March 13th, 2010

What if automobiles were sentient beings? What if we flew all of Mars’ water back to Earth? What if aliens landed in New York City? What if paintings could talk? What if our shoes could fly?

What is the point? All of these situations are perfectly absurd. What kind of thought experiments are they? How are they useful? What purpose do they serve us? Are askers just trying to generate conversation, or do they really want answers? Do they believe the questions are useful, or is it just a kind of boredom that motivates them to ask?

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30 Answers

bob_'s avatar

Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.

Berserker's avatar

It’s fun to explore the impossible and stir the imagination around.
At least, from my point of view.

Oh also, flying shoes- that would rock.

paintmeblue's avatar

holy shit, batman, that’s a lot of questions in your details section

We’re naturally curious people, hence how literature, art, poetry, books, movies are created. We use these questions to fuel the desire to live beyond our means, in our fantasies, because it’s better than dealing with the way the world actually is.

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

Some might do so to get attention or to get others to participate in speculation about something that interests them.

Curiosity is generally a good attribute within reason. When it goes far, far beyond reason it is at a minimum silly and at most a waste of energy and time.

DominicX's avatar

Some of those are kinda stupid, but I don’t think there’s any harm with people letting their imaginations run wild. A lot of interesting and entertaining stories are based on things like that. I think it can be fun.

Also, some of them may be ridiculous now, but you never what might happen in the future. It’s fun to speculate. If this site had existed in the 1700s, someone might have said “What if we could record sounds? Isn’t that the most ridiculous thing you’ve ever heard?!”

Your_Majesty's avatar

It’s for hyperthetical debate(since we’re allowed to do that) to find some meaning and absolute definition of something that is debatable and controversial.

Jeruba's avatar

Sometimes I think they suppose they’re being interesting and original.

We do entertain ourselves in widely different ways. I think that’s fine. I can skip those questions, and people who like them are probably passing over the ones that attract me.

ETpro's avatar

Seemingly nonsensical questions can serve as thought experiments. Good ones make us step outside the box and think about things in a fanciful universe that may not exist, but whose rules my intersect with and act on the rules of our own universe in unpredictable ways. I love such questions if they are cleverly thought up, and not just attempts to be silly for silliness’ sake.

Others may not care for fantasy at all. But it’s easy enough for them to simply skip over such questions and go on to the type they prefer. I hope the waters of Fluther are big enough for lots of kinds of Jellies. The box jellyfish thinks only inside the box, but you also have the Portuguese Man of War, the Lion’s Mane Jelly, the Moon Jelly, the Sun Jelly, the Mangrove Jelly, the Upside Down Jelly… There are over 1,500 species of us. We’re all needed to keep the ecology healthy.

YARNLADY's avatar

I usually don’t bother with the ‘why’ of it, and simply skip them. Every question generates more traffic on the site, and that’s apparently important in helping to keep it free of charge.

Sarcasm's avatar

What if people just stopped asking those questions?

partyparty's avatar

It helps us to use our imagination, and it’s fun.

davidbetterman's avatar

@Sarcasm What if you hadn’t asked that, because I was gonna!??!?

Steve_A's avatar

Because it is a question and answer website.

CMaz's avatar

Why not?

mrentropy's avatar

What would society be like if humans went into “heat?”

Trillian's avatar

@wundayatta I saw flying shoes in a movie just last night. Pretty cool, but I don’t understand how gravity didn’t pull the person upside down. I guess if you’re going to “fly” in the face of physics, you might as well go all the way!

filmfann's avatar

OMG! What IF cars were sentient???

Pandora's avatar

@mrentropy ewwwwhhhh! Not pretty
@wundayatta
Sometimes you get a ridiculous question stuck in your head and you find the answers amusing.
I’m sure sometimes its people who had one glass too many or just bored or high.
It wouldn’t surprise me though if sometimes it was a stupid homework assignment either. When my kids were in school I remember them sometimes coming home with ridiculous assignments where I thought perhaps the teacher may have smoked a peace pipe or two. LOL

Silhouette's avatar

What if we still thought the world was flat? What if someone hadn’t decided to ask what if it’s round? They say necessity is the mother of invention but it’s not, imagination is.

Coloma's avatar

It’s called curiosity, imagination, playfulness…..all traits of the more intelligent, if not gifted personalities.

Stay curious!

If not for imagination there would be NO paintings, or anything else, including questions some find droll.

nebule's avatar

Because sometimes, posing seemingly improbable questions leads one to the surprising answer that they were never in fact improbable in the first place… this is partly the point of philosophy – to do the inquiry into things which would otherwise be abandoned.

Dr_Dredd's avatar

@filmfann Wasn’t that the Stephen King movie (and book) “Christine”? :-)

filmfann's avatar

Well, if they were, I would think twice about pumping the brakes.

Trillian's avatar

You mean cars aren’t sentient? What about Kitt? (looks wildly all around in a panic)

mrentropy's avatar

You folks have never seen When Cars Attack?

CMaz's avatar

What if there was no need for what if questions any more?

wundayatta's avatar

What if I took all these questions and asked them?

They’re mine, I tell you! All mine!

Nially_Bob's avatar

Stimulation would be my immediate thought. A similar reason to why some ask highly probable “what if” questions I suppose.

I personally find it interesting to consider how people would think and behave in a highly unfamilar situation as are frequently described in improbable “what if” questions. It can assist in better understanding the thought patterns of ourselves and others, among other things.

“Do they believe the questions are useful, or is it just a kind of boredom that motivates them to ask?”
In my experience (little as it may be), some of the most useful notions have been realised as a result of boredom; this boredom may take the form of a seemingly purposeless conversation.

nebule's avatar

@Nially_Bob nice to see you x

Nially_Bob's avatar

@lynneblundell And you my friend :)

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