What’s your problem?

I don’t think Dean Gano’s article, "Are You a Good Problem Solver" (May 2011) is very good at all. The only paragraph with any merit—in my opinion—is the final one, which alludes to "necessity" and "sufficiency" as important conditions for causation.

More importantly, the identification of the necessary conditions for failure and measurements of the conditions sufficient to initiate the failure are vital for engineering and validating a solution to the problem.

Techniques such as categorization and linear thinking are still useful tools to focus a team’s brainstorming power and help identify conditions of necessity and sufficiency against which evidence can be tested.

Causes are not effects. This is a major misstatement. The effects of a failure at the component level may cause the failure of a subsystem or system, but a cause is not its own effect.

As for all that mumbo jumbo about "continuum of causes" and the existence of effects: While infinite limits may be important to pure science, applied scientists know that for practical purposes, the "continuum" can be limited to the conditions observable in the immediate vicinity at the time and place of the failure. Often, Occam’s razor will make short work of Buddah’s fishing net.

Alex Saegert
Vancouver, British Columbia

Author’s response

It is rewarding to see that my article has caused people to think more deeply. As for the notion of truth, truth cannot be anything but relative to the beholders of a common reality, and because science is the practice of challenging prototypical truths, it is always changing and thus improving the human experience.

The human condition often demands answers even when there are none, and because of this seemingly natural condition, we create answers in direct violation to the principles of causation and the reality of happenstance. Just because we don’t have an answer doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

We can demystify the many unhealthy human belief systems that rely on mystery and intrigue to sell certainty about the unknown by seeing the world as many systems operating in their own space and time, each with its own set of infinitely variable action causes.

With this understanding, we can recognize that the unknown is knowable. Or if it is not currently knowable, we can accept the unknown as only a temporary condition in the infinite set of causes that is reality. To do otherwise is a mindless, arrogant, ineffective strategy that leaves us in stasis.

We can choose to learn or not. The last paragraph of the article speaks for itself.

Dean L. Gano
Richland, WA

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