O temporas! O mores! Oh the times! Oh the customs! People just can’t think these days! They skim a Wikipedia article and think they know everything! People can’t tell you why they believe what they believe—they believe something on a whim! Idiot Trump, socialist Bernie, and liar Hillary each have real shots at being president. Christians seem to check their brain at the door when they go to church. Scenarios we used to use in our reductio ad absurdum arguments are now sincerely held positions. What happened to the times when people were more thoughtful, cared more about what they believed, and were sensible?
How many times have we heard this? In particular, how many times have we heard this and not moved any closer to a realistic solution? It is good to mention a problem that has not been mentioned before, but it is not good to continue to bemoan the state of affairs without attempting to do something about it. We cannot remain in our cliques and persist with our complaining about how the world can’t think. To do so is to be complicit in the crime. In our inaction, we allow harm to come to humanity.
But, World Dumb is an insurmountable problem! No one has come up with a cure!
To this objection, I respond with the word yet. No one has come up with a cure yet. It has not been demonstrated that it is impossible, so we should carry on with the assumption that it is possible. Doing otherwise is to admit defeat and to damn untold millions to ignorance and perhaps even hell.
Even if some clever person were to construct a proof of some sort that World Dumb is incurable, we still must not surrender. There are still a great many ways we can approach the problem. But, since we aren’t there yet, I’m not going to dwell on those. (Prevent spread, reduce symptoms, or change the rules so that the limitations of the disease are irrelevant.)
I do not deny—for it is as obvious as can be—that this is a hard problem. If it were easy, we would not complain about World Dumb, we would simply solve it.
Defining the Dumb
What is the Dumb? When we say someone has the Dumb, how do we arrive at that conclusion? Are there different flavors or colors of the Dumb?
We need to define what it is. Perhaps we don’t know and need to think, research, and survey. There are probably multiple reasons, causes, and contributing factors. I don’t know how to define the Dumb, but here are some thoughts I had. They are almost certainly wrong, but maybe someone else will connect the dots with these jogging their mind.
- Lack of knowledge
- Different approach than we take (think Enlightenment vs Romanticism)
- Different conclusions than we make
There must be a better definition than, “People can’t think.” Use the Five Whys or other analysis tools to find the real reason people have the Dumb.
Currently, much of our approach to solving World Dumb is to merely lament about how the world does not think, how little they care, and how they don’t even know any better. This is not good. We are better than the proverbial grumpy old men grumbling about today’s youngsters with no realistic progress made or attempted.
I propose we change our approach. Clearly, trying to solve World Dumb in one fell swoop is nigh impossible. Still, we can make progress by transforming the problem.
As we all learn in our math classes (particularly for me Calculus III, Combinatorics, and Algorithms), changing the form of a problem is often a good way to make progress. There are many integrals that can’t be evaluated without changing the coordinate system or order of integration. Similarly, many mathematical algorithmic proofs rely upon showing an unsolved problem is equivalent to a solved problem by changing the formation of the problem slightly.
Of course, the types of problems mathematics addresses are quite different from the problem we are trying to solve, but the techniques are used in many varied fields. I don’t expect all of these techniques to apply. The expectation is that by changing the approach, we will arrive at new ideas to combat World Dumb.
Solve a Single Case
Perhaps the lowest hanging fruit is to merely show the simplest case of Dumb is solvable. Take a single example of Dumb with a single individual and propose a method to cure the individual. The proposed method doesn’t need to solve every strain of Dumb, merely show that Dumb is curable. With a simple case solved, we can move to more complicated varieties.
If we get no farther than this, we have found a method to save one person from the Dumb. That is one more than would have been saved. With more resources, we can duplicate this and save more. With more time and practice, we may be able to optimize our technique and become more efficient.
Split Into Smaller Problems
A related problem solving technique to solving a single case is splitting a large problem into multiple smaller problems. I personally use this quite often when developing software. For example, building a autonomous automobile is a huge problem, but it can be solved if we break it up into smaller problems. Some of the smaller problems related to building a self-driving car are:
- Determine which roads to take to arrive at the desired destination (path finding).
- Detect the road boundaries, other vehicles, and obstacles to avoid (computer vision).
- Build a control mechanism to control the various automobile systems like the steering wheel, engine, transmission, and lights (robotics).
By solving each of these sub-problems (which each may be split into further sub-problems), the self-driving car project comes closer to a reality. Relating this to our endeavor, by solving the various contributing factors to Dumb, we can reduce or eliminate World Dumb. Perhaps apathy, lack of knowledge, and alternate conclusions—or whatever we identify as sub-problems.
Reduce the Unsolvable to Solvable
Say we have problem A. We don’t know how to solve A. However, we notice we know how to solve problem B. If we can find a way to reduce A to B, we then solve A. The trouble is to find B and the reduction method. This method is used frequently in computer science with advanced algorithms.
As a potential example, we have the problem of Apathy and we don’t know how to make people care. However, we are quite good at giving arguments to (hopefully) change the conclusions of our interlocutors. If we can find a way to reduce the problem of Apathy to the problem of giving arguments, we make progress. Of course, Apathy is a fairly complex problem, so we may need augment our arguments with something else to fully cover Apathy.
Simplify the Problem
What if we don’t need to do everything we think we need to do? We often overestimate what we need to do when faced with an unfamiliar scenario or when the task is large.
A small example is given in Don Norman’s classic Design of Everyday Things. Norman was annoyed with the many different locks in his apartment complex and he never knew which way he needed to turn the key. Instead of trying to change the direction of the lock mechanism, he simply added small stickers on each lock to indicate the direction. Problem solved. Instead of standardizing all the locks, it was sufficient to merely indicate the direction of turning—a much simpler problem.
Turning to the problem we are discussing, what if we only needed to make thinking valuable? (At least the type of thinking we desire for others to exemplify.) Then, regular people would naturally seek to think for themselves. It may be the case that we only need to teach a small population how to think. Perhaps we only need to teach key people—leaders of some sort—who will then go out and do more than we can alone.
In general, “make population x do y” would be a simplification when x is a population less than “the world” or y is something simpler than “think”.
When All Else Fails… Throw More Resources at the Problem
Can’t figure out how to solve a computer problem fast enough? Throw more computers at the problem. Don’t know how to make an efficient pulley to hoist the load? Get a bigger engine. Have an unfavorable tactical position in a key battle? Overwhelm your opponent with a sea of soldiers. Can’t figure out how to balance the budget? Add more money.
Some problems simply require more resources. Other times, we are not clever enough to find an efficient use of our resources to solve the issue. It is perfectly acceptable to add more resources to the mix and solve the problem. After all, the goal is to solve the problem, not do it with some arbitrary number of resources.
In our particular circumstance, we can choose to wait until we have enough resources to solve the problem. World Dumb is not going anywhere and we can use time to our advantage to maneuver into a position where we can effectively accomplish our goal.
Bringing It All Together
World Dumb is hard, pervasive, and people seem to actually like it. It won’t go away quickly, cleanly, or cheaply. It is, nonetheless, an important problem that needs bright minds, brave leaders, and steadfast supporters.
Once we move beyond complaining, we can begin to recognize the problem is not impossible. We can then start to define the problem. Finally, changing our approach can yield success.