Are You Asking the Right Question?

The times they are a-changin’.

This post seems to be older than 15 years—a long time on the internet. It might be outdated.

Far too often, people ask the wrong question. Raymond from The Old New Thing has a perfect example of this. Although his post is more about “people sometimes [asking] a question that can’t or shouldn’t
be answered because it is based upon a misunderstanding.”

I’m sitting here on the couch watching “I Am My Own Twin” on TLC (I TiVo’d it last night). The special chronicles the “stories of individuals born with a rare condition in which two embryos fuse together into one fetus.” A woman has given birth to several babies over a period of years and is applying for child support. DSHS has the woman, the man, and the babies get DNA tests to confirm paternity. However, when DSHS gets the tests back, the find that the woman shares no common DNA with the babies. At this point they ask, “You’re not the real mother. There is no way you can be the mother. Where did you get these kids from? Did your sister have these children and you’re taking them?”

This is an example of asking the wrong questions. If a person asks, “Who is your mother?” What data do you use to qualify your answer? What data can you use to qualify your answer?

I could say that Pam is my mother because she A) Physically gave birth to me, B) Shares 50% of DNA, and C) Raised me. I assume that for the purpose of the DSHS investigation, they don’t care who is currently rasing the child. This means that as far as DSHS is concerned, the mother is the person who gives birth to a child that shares ~50% of the DNA. The problem is (as this show goes to point out), that person may not be one and the same. In fact, “who is your mother?” can easily have at least three different answers, all of them correct!

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