Monday, November 08, 2004

Good Answers to Bad Questions

Somehow we got onto the topic of answering questions and I brought up the topic of the Mu answer. I mentioned this example which comes straight from the Jargon File:
The correct answer to the classic trick question “Have you stopped beating your wife yet?”. Assuming that you have no wife or you have never beaten your wife, the answer “yes” is wrong because it implies that you used to beat your wife and then stopped, but “no” is worse because it suggests that you have one and are still beating her. According to various Discordians and Douglas Hofstadter the correct answer is usually “mu”, a Japanese word alleged to mean “Your question cannot be answered because it depends on incorrect ssumptions”.
This use of Mu is not technically correct outside of hacker speak as Mu technically means "empty" or "nothing". At the time I said english had no translation, but now I realize that Null probably fits. Yes I realize that the concept of Null has many meanings, but so does Mu in the original Japanese. Both literally indicate not one or zero, but empty or void.

We think that if the concept gets around, it may one day result in political debates sounds like "Mu! Mu!" while the other person waves his hand and says "Bah! Bah!". Barnyard politics indeed.

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