Why do children ask lots and lots of questions? Aren’t they capable of understanding the answer the first 15 times their parents respond? Why do people make statements about their views instead of asking each other questions? Shouldn’t we be quick to listen to others’ ideas instead of simply asserting our own?
Why does God ask questions?
Isn’t he supposed to be all-knowing?
The ability to ask questions is part of what makes us human. Animals have significant communicative abilities—the ability to signal, to gesture, and to vocalize. They can problem-solve and even reason, as Mexican ecologist Constantino Macías Garcia found in house finches that line their nests with cigarette butts as a chemical deterrent against ticks.
But animals lack the metacognition required to ask questions. Metacognition refers to the ability to think about thinking and implies more than merely taking action or responding to inputs.
Peter Carruthers, in his article “Meta-cognition in Animals: A Skeptical Look,” explains that thinking in humans and animals can be divided into two systems: a lower level that is reactive and a higher level that is reflective. In Carruthers’s classification, animals can make statements because statements come from the lower level of thinking. They can reason that some types of nesting prevent ticks. But animals cannot ask questions, because animals cannot think about the possibilities that questions could evoke.
My cat, Sitka, can tell me he needs food (“meow”), and command me to get him food (“meow, meow, meow”), but he cannot ask me what the food is. He lacks the higher level of abstract thinking needed to ask questions. Being a cat, he probably ...1
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