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Re^2: "Question" vs "Doubt"

by Intrepid (Deacon)
on Sep 11, 2006 at 06:47 UTC ( #572289=note: print w/replies, xml ) Need Help??

in reply to Re: "Question" vs "Doubt"
in thread Regular Expression Doubt

jdporter wrote on May 17, 2005
No; the essential concept of doubt is uncertainty, not disagreement.

I question whether this is accurate. I see that here are two components to the "idea" of doubt, even going only by the referenced definition(s):

  • uncertainty
  • belief

The examples given at clearly indicate a strong tendency for doubt to be used with regards to matters of belief, judgement, speculation or opinion. What's a "matter of belief, judgement, speculation, or opinion"? I'll try to give two examples to illustrate.

Hank: "Hey Ernest, did you hear that they've replaced that traffic signal at 5th and Main with a traffic-directing trained Indian elephant!?"

Ernest: "I strongly question whether that's true, Hank."

Ponder that verses this:

Valerie: "Oh my, my! What's going to happen when every fact about everything in the world is available on the Internet?! We teachers will be out of work!"

Yves: "I doubt that will happen in our lifetime."

Does the difference emerge clearly into view? The traffic signal vs. elephant is rather easily verified by direct examination of the location or even by third-hand reportage by a reliable party (say, for the sake of argument, the evening news broadcast).

The second case -- "everything anyone will want to know about anything will be published somewhere on the Internet (in the near future)" is far more conjectural, subjective, and vague. It's a fitting subject for doubt. Matters that pertain to developments in the future are inherently viewed by different people through a complex process that relates to many indeterminate factors like beliefs about the fate of humanity, the objective reality of a destined "progress" in human development over time, etc.

Questions about a programming technology are matters of absence of understanding, of lack of possession of facts, of incomplete digestion of information, insufficient experience, etc. When one says "I doubt this or that" in matters of engineering or science, they generally mean that they don't accept as true a broad theoretical framework or hypothesis. It doesn't make sense to "doubt" that binary logic circuits work: it's demonstrated sufficiently (for any normal person) that they do. It's another thing to "doubt" the hypothesis that the present physical Universe began in a "Big Bang" -- one may have reasons to doubt that pertain to philosophical teachings about the nature of reality or to some competing scientific hypothesis; whatever the case, the matter is sufficiently large, far away and difficult that "doubt" is not an unreasonable thing.

When non-native-English speakers come to Perlmonks and state that they "have doubts about perl (and this continues to happen often), most all native English speakers that don't have some extensive experience with non-native "mistakes" in English, are confused, and may interpret the meaning differently than "I question". When we talk about "doubt" in terms of this Perl technology and the community built around it, "doubt" takes on a very negative connotation that implies something like "I don't think Perl works" or "I think Perl is poor technology" or "I think Perl may be headed for technological extinction". Saying these things in a forum like this, especially when not accompanied by a hell of a good supporting argument, is the classic, sordid, pedestrian trolling that earns those who do it the dislike, distrust, anger, and rejection of its intended targets. That's why it is important to clarify why using this term is "incorrect" in this context, even if native English speakers are also often not especially correct in saying doubt instead of question in other contexts.

    Soren A / somian / perlspinr / Intrepid

Words can be slippery, so consider who speaks as well as what is said; know as much as you can about the total context of the speaker's participation in a forum over time, before deciding that you fully comprehend the intention behind those words. If in doubt, ask for clarification before you 'flame'.

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