“Level” of a WHY question

“Levels” in Why-questions dont just occur in the sense of “chain of how many whys?” That is, one can ask a why to a why and a why to that why and so on, thus creating a chain and thus levels of why-questions. But there exist levels of another kind to a why-question – level of specificity of knowledge. These can be called “nested whys”, in a sense, also, like the earlier chain of whys preceding each other.

Consider this conversation between 2 people – A & B :

A: John gave a ball to Jack.

B: Why did he give a ball to Jack?

A: Because he wanted a favour from Jack.

B: I know that; what favour did he want from Jack? When I asked – Why did he give a ball to Jack, I meant that very thing – What favour did John want from Jack for giving a ball to him?

Now, it may also happen that A tells the favour and B says that he knew that also and actually wanted to know something specific about that favour itself…..(which is what he meant by asking ‘why did John give a ball to Jack?’ in the first place).

This can go on and on, creating nested levels of specificity of knowledge of the reason (which a ‘why’ seeks to know). This is another dimension of levels of a why-question.

A WHY-question is thus at a “level”, in at least 2 such above described senses – plain whys preceding each other, and the level of specificity of knowledge of reason.

The motive behind any action

Suppose Jack praises John. The apparent reason is that he has appreciation for John’s deeds. But the real motive could be just to flatter him, to get some favor extracted from him.

Any action will have a usual motive (like the first one above) and a real motive (like the second one above) which may or may not be same.

Why does this work? Its working rests upon the following property of a cause-effect pair :

If a cause happens the effect will happen, but the fact that an effect has happened (and this is known first) doesn’t necessarily imply that the same very cause has indeed taken place. The effect might have happened owing to some other different cause. It is an illusion to think that the usual cause has happened when the effect has taken place , just because the usual cause almost always creates that effect!

This =! Not something else

Consider this sentence – A gave a ball to B.

And consider this question – why did he give a ball to B?

Now there are 2 possible kinds of interpretations of this question – 

1) Why this? – 

Why did he give a ball to B?

2) Why not something else? – 

Why did A give a ball to B?

Why did A give a ball to B?

Why did A give a ball to B?

The above 2 sets arent equivalent to each other. The first set (first question) is not equivalent to any of the other 3 (in the second set). (In the first set, none of the 3 i.e. A, ball and B, is more important than the other 2. All the 3 words are equally important, unlike the 3 questions in the second set).

This shows that ‘THIS’ is not the same as ‘NOT SOMETHING ELSE’ ! 

The gap between the Mind and Language

Consider this very basic Linguistic representation scheme for a question- 

Sounds simple. Simply speaking, there is a Reference, and then there is a Relation to the Reference. This continues as a chain.

The Reference is what you are considering, first. And the Relation is the connection emanating from it. Then that becomes the reference, and you take a connection emanating from it……and so on. 

Lets see examples – 

Q – Who is the smartest man in the world?

Reference – what you are considering first – people in the world.

Relation – connection emanating from it – person with the highest IQ from amongst them. (The exact relational element is in italics).

Above becomes the reference (person with the highest IQ from amongst the people in the world); Relation – his name (we want his name, not say, his weight or height).

(The first level can be decomposed further as – Reference being ‘the World’ and the Relation being ‘the people in it’.

Leading to – 



Smartest man


Or take another simmple example – 

Q – When is Christmas celebrated?

Ref – Christmas

Rel – its celebration

Ref – celebration of Christmas

Rel – date of celebration of Christmas.)

This is the basic ELEMENTAL feature of any fragment of Language itself – there is first something considered, and then there is something related/connected to it. Take, for example, the famous ‘subject and predicate’ of a sentence as a whole. 

Whereas the mind works commonsensically. You can directly get flashed of a wing of an airplane. You dont necessarily first think of an airplane, and then think of its wing, as the next step. But when you have to convert it into language, then it has to follow the organised systematic process as described above – first we have to state the airplace and then say “the wing of an airplane”. 

Natural language generation

Suppose someone says – 

  1. Who trained the smartest man in the world, to be the smartest man in the world?
  2. There are -3 people in this room. 

Now, both the above statements are perfect in English. But they are meaningless. No one trains someone to be the smartest man in the world. And there cannot be -3 people anywhere.

They are untrue. They are impossible in the real world. But they still can have existence in the real world other than the obvious alternative of saying that maybe they are true in some children’s fictional story. And that is, that – someone said them. That provides a perfect legitimate context and background in which they can exist in the real world.

Thus, anything which is grammatically perfect will carry a possible context in which it is “meaningful”. If something is “CORRECT”, i.e. according to some set of rules, then it has an existence. 

What about grammatically incorrect sentences or things which don’t satisfy any set of rules? Do they have existence? Say, ‘John apple 5’. This isn’t correct English in the first place. But one can say that while illustrating a point I mentioned it as an example and ultimately did type it – in which case, it gains a context of existing in the real world. 

So does anything, that is generated by a language-capable entity, have an existence in the real world? Yes – other than being out of “validity”, either out of an illustration/mention or a mistake or insanity/deficiency of the mind. 

Names of words

To delve into the problem of meaning in language, we need to begin with the atomic unit called word. That is, the meanings of words. 

What all has been named, as a word? Consider a keyboard. Consider the key ‘G’ on it. There is a point on it at a distance of 1 mm below the bottommost point of the letter G written on the key. Does it have a name? No. Should it have a name? No. Why? You just express it in terms of other fundamental words as – “the point on the ‘G’ key of a keyboard at a distance of 1 mm below the bottommost point on the letter G written on the key”. But there is a word for the computer screen – monitor. And there should be one. So the question arises – what all should be named? What all should have a word?

Firstly and basically, anything that is quite distinct from its surroundings will have a name. But what exactly should have one?

3 criteria – 

  1. Similarity-spread
  2. Connectedness
  3. Similarity
  1. If a certain feature is spreading/continuing over (and/or within) an “entity”, that entity will have a name. 

E.g. i) ‘patch’ – A patch of blue colour on the table. 

ii) ‘arc’ – An arc of a circle is composed of similar things (infinitesimal mini-arcs) spreading over it.

iii) ‘surface’

  1. If there is a set of entities connected to each other, then the whole big entity, till the connection with the surroundings breaks, will be named. 

E.g. – i) ‘tree’ – stem, branches, leaves, fruits, flowers all are a connected system

ii) ‘microscope’ – continuously interconnected parts

  1. Any feature similar to many things will be named. 

E.g. ‘top’. The feature ‘top’ is common to a house, a keyboard, a glass etc., as in “top of the house”, “top of the glass”, “top of the keyboard” etc.

Are there more?

Why does something like a word exist? What is the purpose of a word?

There are 2 aspects to this and we will see how they relate to / OVERLAP with the above discussion (what all has been named / criteria for creation of a word).

            Firstly, the answer lies in striking a balance between 1) ‘distinguishing for uniqueness’  and 2) ‘collectivism for repetition in usage’. Lets see each of these 2 separately.

  1. Splitting something into small fundamental general parts.  

Consider this sentence – John is in the office. Now consider this naive proposition – why can’t we collect the words ‘John is in’ and call it a single word? Say, ‘JX’, and then express things like –

JX park

JX home

JX room etc.

to express that John is in the park, home and room respectively? But what if we have to talk the same about Robert, or talk about John in a different tense, or talk about John in a different sense as regards to the office? Then obviously JX won’t work. And hence we need to split JX into John, is & in.                               

Also, the collection-word would have served a purpose if the collection was getting repeated enough in language, which it isn’t quite so, to the extent of justifying the creation of the one short word. This leads to the next point.

  1. Collection – one short word for a set of things – 

This is obvious. If there is a set of things getting repeated, why keep enumerating every constituent component again and again? Lets have one word like say – office or kitchen or whatever for a “setup”.                   

Here is the point : 

In (1), John, Is and in are those unique yet repetitive parts which can fit  in anywhere where called for. This overlaps with Similarity (criteria 3 of yesterday’s discussion).

In (2), the constituents of the collection are spreading connectedly and in a sense of continuum/repetition over the given entity (collection). This overlaps with Connectedness and Similarity-spread (criteria 2 and 1 respectively of yesterday’s discussion). 

Knowledge Representation

To represent knowledge, we need a code, a sort of a coordinate system, which is as small and as general as possible. But there are many aspects to the meaning of a single sentence. So why not begin with capturing just the Physical aspect – the physicality – in the meaning of the sentence?

For example, consider the 3 sentences : 

  • The flight landed at Mumbai airport.
  • John crashed onto the bed at night.
  • The ball fell onto the ground.

All the above three will be the same in that representation scheme since in all the cases something is touching something, coming from above.

The respective representations would be : 

Flight {touching + above} Mumbai airport.

John {touching + above} bed.

Ball {touching + above} ground.

The word-set/list of the Connectors in the scheme would be something like – 


{Split or cut}

{Adjacent – left / right / up / down} 

{Inside, outside / above / under or below}

{Volume+ (expand) / Volume- (contract)}


{Parallel / skewed}

……etc. and their combinations.

Basically, all the standard terms we encounter in Mechanics.

Another example of representation – 

The book is on the table which is besides the sofa.

Book {left, right, up, down, inside, outside} table {left, right, up, down, inside, outside} sofa.  

So if I have to represent the arrangement of objects in my room, I just have to first bring forth the items, place the brace-bracket connector between pairs, and just “ON” the requisite switches.

If I “ON” a different combination of switches, I get a different possible arrangement in my room.


Another broad Linguistically inspired, Commonsense-based Knowledge Representation scheme – 

We want the machine to interpret the given sentence. So why not move towards it by doing this?

Focus on the smallest group of words i.e. 2 i.e. a pair of words, coming together in a sentence.

Enumerate the kinds of pairs of words that occur together i.e. consecutively in a sentence. 

  1. Noun – verb : John (human) kicked, bullet (inanimate) travelled
  2. Verb – noun : travelling bullet, moving car
  3. Adj. – noun : smooth road
  4. Verb – adverb : moved fast 
  5. Adverb – verb : slowly captured

Now, write all that is there commonsensical-ly, to each pair !

For e.g. – Human – verb (type 1 above).

Human did an action

Human had an intention

It served a purpose for the human

Had an effect on the human

Had an effect on something on which the action was done

It cost the human something

Human most probably knew how to do it


(Also, take the dictionary meanings of the words and imbibe the aspects of the contents of the meanings into the ‘all that is there to the pair’. )

The above list will have to be human-brain-stormed and hand-coded into the machine. 

This will help towards the computer truly having a sense of understanding and interpretation of the contents of a sentence. 

Irrational inertia / Poetic momentum – Linguistic inertia

Suppose you are given this sentence (‘A gave a ball to B’) and you, in general, start thinking about it – this event. You might think – how did he give the ball? (That is, placed it in his hand or threw it to him to catch from a short distance or………etc.) 

Another thought could be (about B this time) – And what did B do? Did he take it? What was B’s feeling/reaction? 

Now you thought about A – how did he give the ball? (and/or some other things). But you had something to think from – A gave a ball. So a follow-up to this is – how did he give? Why did he give? etc. But B is just a silent inactive agent in this event. There is nothing talked about B / B doing. It is not even stated “B took a ball from A”. Still you came up with a question about B (how did B react? etc.) Where is the inertia for that? Where is the pointer to that?       

The only inertia/momentum for this is – ‘talked about A, so talk about B’   …….  ‘A gave a ball (A did so and so), so what did B do?’   ……. ‘Something about A; so something about B’…………in this tune. Notice the ‘And’ before the very first question about B.

This can be merely called “Linguistic Inertia” – where the sheer and mere presence and arrangement of certain words brings certain things to your mind upon coming across a piece of data, in a certain pattern/tune/rhythm….etc., so to speak. They dont require “real” thinking. 


All data is created data. It is created by a human being.

So there is some goal, in some sense, behind every created data. Every (created) data serves an intention / a goal. 

When an ad in a newspaper says – last 3 days of the sale ! – it relates to the goal of the writer to draw people to the store.

When my phone has it written on it – ‘Samsung’ – it relates to the goal of the maker to convey to anyone who sees the phone that it is made by Samsung Corp.


A very elementary scheme to understand the meanings of simple sentences

There are 3 components – 

  1. Definitions of non-small words (At, is, on, the etc. are the small words).
  2. The Linguistic rules which the small words indicate.
  3. The interconnections between the words.

E.g. – John is at home today.

        Lets see the 3 components –

  1. Firstly, we should know the definitions of the non-small words John, Home and Today. John is a boy. A home is a place/structure for staying inside. Today is the present day.
  1. ‘Is’ indicates being. (‘X is’ indicates the being of X). ‘At’ indicates the location of the subject. (‘at X’ indicates that the location of the subject is X).
  1.  Look at things this way. We are just given words – 5 words – 1) John, 2) home, 3) at, 4) is & 5) today. The specific order is 14325 – John is at home today. 

Why do we write from left to right, one word after another? This brings with it a certain basic simpl principle in making sense of the connections between the words.

It is – Whenever there is a fragment A from the beginning (containing words w0 w1 w2 w3 …..wn-1), followed by a word ‘wn’, the linear left-to-right order indicates “it is (‘w0’ which is ‘w1’ which is ‘w2’….) which is ‘wn’ + remnant”. 

Now, combine all the 3 components above. 

  1. Firstly, John is a boy. Home is a place/structure for staying inside and today is the present day.
  2. ‘Is’ is being. ‘At’ indicates location of the subject. 
  3. Now lets apply the 3rd component along with the 1st 2. 

Fragment                       Meaning

John is :                        It is John which ‘is’ + at home today. 

John is at :                    It is John which is being, which is ‘at’ + home today.

John is at home :          It is John which is being, which is located at, which is ‘home’ +


John is at home today : It is John which is being, which is located at, which is home, which is (on) this present day.


  • Every ‘which’ applies to the word just preceding it.
  • The single-quoted words in the meanings of the fragments indicate that they are from the original sentence. Any repetition (for example, of is and at without the quotes indicates normal English usage of theirs; nothing to do with they being present in the original sentence). 

The above scheme provides a basic understanding of a simple sentence.