The Enlightened Caveman


A Tribute to Solution Space
December 7, 2004, 3:52 pm
Filed under: Enlightened Living, Philosophy, Science

Original Post (including comments)
There’s concept in science known as solution space, and it colors my entire perspective. Solution space refers to the sum total of all possible solutions to a problem or question. For example, if you’re asked in which month Arbor Day falls, your solution space is a list of the twelve months of the year. The thing about solution space is that most problems have a massive number of possible solutions. One, or even a few, may be right, but most are absolutely wrong.

There’s more. Solutions that are wrong but not very wrong are often located closer in space to the right solution than solutions that are very wrong. So, since Arbor Day is usually the last Friday in April (I had to look it up, believe me), March is closer, in solution space, than February, which is closer than December. The idea is to kind of visualize an expanse of space and to think of the solution as being located in some tiny locale therein. In this case, our solution space is two-dimensional. But in most cases, when you factor in thousands of variables at work at any given time, the space expands in all directions.

I have found the use of the solution space concept very valuable over the years. For one thing, it keeps me very far from ever proclaiming certainty. Regardless of what we’re trying to explain, there’s a solution space for it and, very importantly, our imaginations play a large role in what areas of solution space we explore. We generally start where we’ve been before and extrapolate from there. Herein lies the wisdom of solution space. The moment we think we’ve thought of everything, we need only remind ourselves that solution space is gigantic and that the odds are very good that we’re missing A LOT. It’s humbling and produces a tendency to keep digging, which bring me to the next benefit of solution space.

Solution space is a creativity enhancer. By understanding that our current way of explaining things is limited to the insights gained from our previous experiences, each located in its own area of solution space, eventually we know where not to look. We’re forced to reject the familiar if our question remains unresolved. We have to find environments that stimulate our brains in new ways. As soon as we experience new things and new ideas, we begin to consider the permutations that surround them in solution space. It’s as if we’re instantly transported to a new area of space with all new possibilities. This is why people go to movies, and it’s also why a lot of people do drugs. Isn’t a big screen experience the ultimate cure for boredom with the familiar? And didn’t John Lennon and pals frequently refer to the mind expanding powers of whatever it was they were on? What the moviegoer and Lennon had in common was the desire to access some previously unaccessed areas of solution space. In looking for explanations for everything from meaning of life to the perfect melody line, the solution space jockey finds the thrill in the chase.

At some point in the internalization of solution space, we come to know that finding what we want may take a while. We develop tenacity to continue searching for solutions. Eventually, when we’ve run down one too many rat holes, it dawns that the most important solution space is the one related to what makes for a worthwhile question. It becomes instantly apparent that the good ones are daunting, where many have tried and all have failed, where the space of possibilities is enormous. But you have to pay your dues and the big questions aren’t big for nothing.

Getting a crack at the biggest expanses of solution space requires years of training. One must learn to tell the difference between a correct and incorrect solution – between truth and fiction, at the end of the day. The base of this skill is the commitment to the notion that possibilities may only be proven wrong, never right. The only thing to do is disprove as many as possible and then evaluate the field that remains. Based upon a certain set of rules, a solution may or may not be chosen as the preferred solution. And preferred solutions are only allowed if they are accompanied by an admission of uncertainty (solution space is big, even for simple things).

The rules that determine if we can even prefer a solution are the same rules that we use to determine if a solution is true or false. These are the rules of logic. Once they are mastered, we must use them to acquire as much knowledge as we can – about a wide array of subjects. The more we learn, the more difficult the questions we can pursue effectively. This is pretty much where I am these days.

I’m on a mission to learn as much as I can about this world. This blog, I hope, will help me do that. I am constantly pondering the role of our genes in our ability to understand our experiences. So I’ll throw out what I’ve encountered in my jaunts through solution space in the hopes that readers might help in the search. And if I stray into politics too much, well I can’t help it – the drama’s irresistible.

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