Chris Ryan-ism: Question the Premise

Whenever I have a conversation with someone, I always try to understand their point of view. Sometimes, the point of view of others is built on a house of cards, sometimes it’s built on the most stable bedrock. There’s no way to know without getting more information. Therefore, you must always question the premise.

In rhetoric, a premise is a set of conditions under which a conclusion can be made. A hypothesis, as it were. If this, then that. Like in Einstein’s elevator.

Questioning the premise would be asking why the dude is in the elevator in the first place. Why did the elevator fall? And what made the guy float as a result of the free fall? By questioning the premise, Einstein was able to refine the idea around General Relativity.

It’s not difficult.

Questioning the premise is a basic skill for humans. When children ask “why,” after being asked to do something, they are questioning the premise. By questioning the premise, they can further refine their cognitive ability by seeing what causes the environment around them to change. By applying that skill, they become curious.

The answer to questioning the premise is the most difficult thing to swallow. When people of authority get stumped, they either answer “because,” “because I said so,” or they make a wild ass guess. People don’t like saying “I don’t know.” It’s not their fault; they have a reputation and authority to protect. But killing curiosity by not answering a question to the premise sets up people to lose their curiosity.

People Don’t Know What They Don’t Know

People are quick to jump to conclusions. We all make judgements quickly without all the evidence we need to make robust and definitive judgements. That’s how people get swindled, hoaxed, or pranked. We take what we observe, or what we know to be true, and hold that in higher regard than information that would come into conflict with what we know.

Take for example the Photo-Electric Effect. Before Max Planck, Heinrich Hertz, Robert Millikan, and yeah, Albert Einstein proposed that light had properties of particles, nobody understood this property of light, or why it happened (Descartes proposed that light waves behaved like sound waves. Descartes was wrong, again. Good at questioning other’s premises, not good at questioning his own.)

Always question the premise. It doesn’t hurt, and you might learn something.

Isaiah is a linguist, a student, and a musician. He likes whiskey and showtunes. Check out his music on Soundcloud or Bandcamp. His website is, where he writes personal blogs that aren't too well thought out.

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