from "Terra City" - Opening Edition
2. A MODEL
I can clearly remember my early years in school when I was very frustrated with math problems. Each time the teacher presented us a new problem to solve, a nightmare began - each problem was an enigma and I had no idea where to start from in solving it. The teacher, who knew the solution to the problem, seemed so powerful and I was feeling weak, unprepared and deeply discouraged. The more we advanced in school, the more complicated the math problems became since the education system automatically assumed that we had learned how to solve them. But none of us had done so. At a certain point, I became so frustrated that I started to suspect that our teachers actually did not want to share that secret knowledge or understanding with us. It took me many years to realize that most of our teachers had no clue of how a problem should be properly analyzed - they just happened to know the answer beforehand. And this was the case because when they were kids they had the same headaches with problems and the same kind of teachers as we were having.
After several years of dragging, a blessed teacher came along and after realizing our puzzle, said this: Solving a math problem is not as difficult as you may think. What you have to do is to clearly understand three main elements: the data, the goal and the way. First, you have to identify what the data of the problem is. Make sure that you do not ignore any piece of it and clearly comprehend what each piece of data really means. Second, you have to determine what the goal of the problem is. You have to understand what exactly is it that the problem asks you to calculate. Once you do that, your task is to go through all your mathematical knowledge - definitions, theorems, rules of calculus etc. - and determine which ones should be applied to your specific data and the particular succession in which they should be executed. In other words, you will find the way from the data of the problem to its goal.
It may not seem to be much, but this simple model of thinking helped us transform ourselves from some terrified dummies into little researchers equipped with a seemingly basic but very efficient instrument of analysis. The more we applied it, the more successful in solving problems we were and the more enthusiastic about math we became. This structured way of thinking made a huge difference in our entire school careers as we soon realized that it could also be applied to other disciplines such as physics and chemistry.
Many years later I realized that this elementary model of analysis could also become a precious way of solving life’s problems as well. The only difference was that this time a few essential differences made its use much more complex. In math problems, the data is clearly specified. There is no missing or redundant data. Everything is offered to us on a plate. In real life nobody offers us the data in such an easy to use format. Instead, we have to go through the tedious task of gathering, selecting, sorting and analyzing all the data that we can think of. And not every piece of information is necessarily data that is pertinent to our problem. As another great teacher once said, ‘generally only a few pieces of data are essential, some data is important but not essential, more data is useful but not important and most data may look interesting but in fact is completely irrelevant to the problem.’ We are the ones who must do this sorting, otherwise we will be flooded with information and not be able to operate this model efficiently. Some data is personal, other data concerns our environment. Both are intrinsic to our lives and we are therefore very likely to be subjective in our judgment, which is the last thing that we should be. If we assume that certain “desired” data exists when it does not, or if we embellish some “embarrassing” data, or ignore some “ugly” data, then in each case we are equally misguided to the detriment of our exercise. Our judgment should be “cool” and impartial.
Similar, but even more acute difficulties are met when we try to establish the goal. Again, in math problems the goal is, most of the time, clearly stated in a sentence ending with a question mark. In life’s problems, establishing the right goal should be the result of the comprehensive picture created by data we gather, sort and analyze. If we set up a goal that is too “lofty”, we might never be able to reach it; if it is not ambitious enough, it will not be satisfactory.
When the data and goal are realistically analyzed and set up, finding the best way, or sometimes ways, from the data to the goal becomes a reasonable task and, generally, it is a rather natural and logical consequence of the first two steps. What makes this model effective is that we can, and must, in order to ensure accuracy, apply it any time we suspect that data has changed. In such a case the goal should be reconsidered, and if necessary the way should be adjusted, according to the feedback received from this process.
If we look around us […], we will see that many decisions are made while assuming that data exists when it does not, while essential data is missing, or while we establish goals based on impulses or subjective reasons or choose the wrong means (ways) to reach our goal. This is why we should no longer be surprised to see so many failures around and to see expedients offered instead of real solutions. We struggle incessantly to reduce crime, unemployment, famine, the use of drugs and so many other human miseries while we consider them to be major problems in our society. Most of the time we do all this with sincere and laudable intentions, yet we invariably fail. Very seldom do we realize that in fact we may not have figured out the real problem that leads to all of the consequences listed above which we foolishly assume to be the problem itself.
If this is the case, then what is the real problem? It may not sound very pleasant, but the reality is that the entire society, as well as all our entire lives are in a big mess. In a deeper analysis, the main premises of our lives appear to be turned upside-down, and this is our real problem. And for as long as we continue to try to fix only the consequences of our problem, we will keep covering up the holes but will never solve the core issue. The question is: Can we afford to keep making these mistakes over and over again, while their results are as awful as we all can see?
If we assume this sentence expresses our fundamental problem - The entire society, as well as our entire lives are in a big mess - in the next chapters of this book we will try to apply the data-goal-way model to find a solution to this problem. Given the size of this task, Human Wisdom invites all readers to reflect on the issues that they consider relevant to this subject and send in their decisive input in this vital process. […]
A Human Era
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