Desire is a game of 20 questions


The game of 20 questions, where you get that many yes-or-no questions to guess .the particular thing another person is thinking, used to be a great way (ok, a decent way) to pass the time on car trips in the era before smart phones.

The series of questions, if cleverly asked, acted as an efficient path by which the answerer could tell you if you were getting hotter or getting colder, closer to or farther away from the answer. But every answer opened the space for more questions. If you figured out that it was an animal, then you could then ask whether it was a mammal. Otherwise you knew the entire idea of animal was simply getting "colder" and you'd move on to something else.

Desire is the same way. We don't know our real desires in full. We discover them progressively over time. Our imagination and our actions are questions. "Do I want this kind of thing?" we seem to be asking someone invisible. Then our emotions and our experiences are the reply. If we notice and express what it is like to have those emotions and experiences, we can grasp whether we are getting warmer or colder. If we are warm, we refine our hypothesis, staying within the same category. If colder, we try something else. On and on goes the game of learning what it is we want.

For in this game, there are not just 20 questions but an unlimited number... and multiple seemingly paradoxical answers may be given. The other player sometimes seems to cheat. Which is in fact, we may find, the most important answer of all...