Episode 4 – User Illusion with SW Hammond

Exploring the philosophy behind the concept of “Why?” and the two questions we are really asking when we use the word “why”. Answering both sets of questions–"How Come?" and "What For?"–yields design and purpose.

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From Bacteria to Bach and Back: The Evolution of Minds by Daniel Dannett


Welcome to the User Illusion Podcast, I am your host Sean Hammond. In this episode I’m going to diving into the concept and question of “why?”. Before we get into it, make sure you subscribe. There’s lots of great content coming up in the future and I’m working on a handful of projects that I think you’ll enjoy.

Link To Article Why: Distinction Between “What For?” and “How Come?”

So why was this article written? Well, it’s the best explanation I’ve found that gives reasons for our use of the concept “why?”

We don’t think about our intent or the reason why we ask the question “why?”, it’s just something we naturally do. However, as curious creatures, we’re constantly trying to piece together the world around us and the question “why?” gives us a sense of cause and effect through answering “how come?” questions, as well as sense of purpose or function through answering “what for?” questions.

Now, answering one, or each of these questions on their own can allow you to be become competent in something. For example, I do quite a bit of webwork, designing and coding websites. It became a function that was born out of necessity. My background is not in programming and I’m entirely self taught, however I’ve never come across a problem in almost 20 years that I haven’t been able to solve.

However, just because I’m able to fix the problem doesn’t mean I understand it. I am competent in getting the job done, but I have absolutely no idea why whatever I did solved the problem, or why the thing failed in the first place—so I avoid doing it in the future. I’m laughably competent with very little comprehension. I understand the “how come?” of what I’m doing, or cause and effect of my coding, but I am totally ignorant of the overall purpose or function, or rather—the “what for?” questions.

It’s only when you combine both the answers to “how come?” and “what for?” questions, these answers giving you a sense of design and purpose, that you begin to understand or comprehend the subject in question. Mastery within both sides of “how come?” and “what for?” leads you to become an expert—someone who can navigate the subject competently and with rational understanding.

So, the next time you ask “why?” you’ll now understand the purpose behind the answers you seek, and once you have them you’ll then better be able to put them into action.

If you’re interested in a more in-depth explanation of “why?” and how it fits into the much bigger picture of humanity, check out Daniel Dennett’s book From Bacteria To Bach And Back. It’s an extremely interesting read and written in a way that’s easy to follow. Don’t be scared off that it’s a “philosophy” book—it will blow your mind!

That’s it for User Illusion. I’m your host Sean SW Hammond. Please like, subscribe, and share with your friends. The best way you can support the podcast and my work is by buying my books, or you can also give a donation directly by heading over to swhammond.com and clicking on “contribute.” Thank you for listening and for those of you watching on YouTube—yes, I got a haircut. About time, right??