Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The problem of solving problems

I have been presenting my thesis about 'the problem of solving problems' over the last few months through this blog. So far I had discussed about the following premises - a) Change is possible b) If problems are solvable, they can be solved c) If there are willing people, they can change the world. Interested people are the prerequisites for the solution to this problem of solving problems. But there are other required factors as well.

Necessary Factors

When we talk about solving problems we are talking about studying problems, finding solutions, trying out solutions, making changes, changing systems and about implementing solutions. In addition to interested and capable people you need infrastructure and resources for doing these. If we have these to aspects on top of interested and capable people, what we have arrived at is a generic solution to the problem of solving problems in the world.

If we bring together interested people and give them sufficient resources, infrastructure and time this generic system should be able to tackle problems one by one. This does not mean that they will be able to solve all the problems. They should be able to solve those problems that are solvable with human effort/intervention.

Money as the prime mover

If we look at the three factors - People, Resources and Infrastructure - we can see that one would stand out from the rest. The factor is one specific type of resource viz. hard cash. If you have money then you can bring in line all the other factors.

Yes, Yes, I hear the skeptic crying out loud that all the money in the world cannot solve all the problems in the world. I sympathetically agree with him. All the problems in the world cannot be solved but those that can be theoretically be solved can be.

Again the skeptic might argue that money alone will not bring about change, and that you need interested people. Yes, I agree, but I have to add that interested people with money is always going to be better than interested people without money. Also there are quite a few interested people out there, who are not in the business of making change because of the requirement in their lives to go after money for sustenance.

The simple logic behind the solution

I am not stating that this is the only way to solve all the problems in the world. I have only examined the whole puzzle from a generic perspective and have defined a system that can possibly work towards solving problems in the world. The solution is really a rational/logical restatement of the obvious.

If a problem is solvable, it can be solved. If a problem can be solved then you have to bring in the parameters required to solve the problem. The generic parameters are Labor, Resources and Infrastructure. If you have one specific type of resource, viz. capital, you can line up all the three parameters. So create a system that can supply you the capital that can in turn supply the three parameters required for solving the problem. Now you have a generic scientific system for solving problems.

If there are other intangible parameters required to solve the problems, then if these parameters are controllable then they can be controlled with the three basic parameters already defined. If the other parameters are not controllable then they can't be controlled by the three basic parameters. If these parameters that cannot be controlled determine whether the problem is solvable or not, then the problem is not solvable by human intervention, which is a contradiction to the first assumption. Simple isn't it.


  1. I would replace *money* with *incentive* to make the theory more generic. Money just happens to be the most reliable incentive;)

  2. @Nithin - I have discussed money as a resource for people interested in solving problems, not as an incentive for people to get interested in solving problems

  3. I started thinking, after reading this article, on a problem that is often talked about these days, which is the "decay of moral values in society". Many of the other problems are often seen as a by-product of this. If one recognizes it as real, I wonder would that fit into the category of problems with (at least) a theoretical solution. And then I wonder to what extent capital would influence the solution for such a problem ?

  4. Sorry i hate to post a random comment on your page... but i am really curious how you changed you blogger address... to and are still able to link to the actual pages...

    example When i mask mine it has my website name but no/page when i click on everything so every page has the original website name only... If you could recomment or contact me i would greatly appreciate you help.

    thank you

  5. "If you have money then you can bring in line all the other factors."

    -> I can agree with this... only if "you" is an "interested person."

    In particular, "you" needs to be "interested" directly in the SOLUTION of the social problem which is at hand. It is not enough for "you" to desire others to identify "you" as a person who is solving this problem. It is not enough for the "you" to have a passing interest in solving the problem and allocate a sum of money toward that purpose, along with a cursory internet search or a Request For Proposals, and donation of the money to the flashiest, most convincing presentation to walk in the door.

    To accomplish change requires precisely the co-incidence of Human Resource, Infrastructure, and Money, that you describe quite eloquently before you get over-excited by Money. I think it's quite likely that your particular altruistic dreams are primarily constrained by a scarcity of money. But, unfortunately this is often not the case for all "interested" actors.

    Many times an interested person erroneously ends up allocating plenty of money to an agent who is actually interested in something else slightly-off-topic, so in the end the money is used to solve a different problem. Or maybe the agent is in fact interested in an imaginary problem hovering over the real problem like a ghost, and their well-funded efforts are actually making the true problem worse.

    The co-incidence of Human Resource, Infrastructure, and Money can only be created by the "your" passion as the interested person. You can choose among three basic strategies. You can:
    - attract resources and public interest toward "your" problem, and grow an institution around yourself as you attack the problem,
    - create memes or persuasive works that convince others to start attacking the problem on their own, and/or
    - use your personal judgement and transfer resources to others who you judge are attacking the right problem.

    Sure, money seems like a tougher constraint because it's the most in-your-face. But the other constraints don't necessarily "fall in line," as evidenced by the ignominous failure, and sometimes even harm done, of many Western "development" projects in low-income-communities.

    Yes, HARM is often done by genuinely "interested" humanitarians who aren't quite "interested" enough, or not in the right ways.