As we pursue the “Are vs. Should Problem” and examine our personal inventory, I want to describe two main ways we can understand our selves and the realities we live in.
First, there is the measurable world. The ‘Hard’ world where science reigns supreme. Things are measurable, quantifiable, and therefore fit into the well oiled scientific machinery. Problems stemming from economics, medicine, and food supply are easily boiled down into testable hypotheses and theories used to derive definitive results. Other minds have described hard problems as being those containing subjects comprised of matter (as opposed to ideas, for example).
Is the economy going to tank? Well, the data on this and that support a trajectory that suggests no.
Will this medicine prevent a global pandemic? It is 98% effective at preventing disease and 90% of the population is vaccinated so yes!
Is this years corn crop enough to supply North America for the winter? Yes, ten billion metric tonnes of corn will feed 200 million people (I completely made up those numbers, but you get the point)
So science is pretty darned good at answering certain questions. About things that we can OBSERVE and MEASURE.
EVERYTHING ELSE is a ‘SOFT’ problem defined by a soft reality. EVERYTHING ELSE.
My point in this episode is that VERY FEW items in our personal inventory are going to fit into the HARD reality. And, unfortunately, scientists (and other professionals who get paid to think) spend most of their time on HARD problems because, well, because they have to. The hard tools don’t work as well on the soft realities. BUT THEY CAN WORK!
And so, as part of our assessment of our personal inventory, as part of the process of weeding out the needs, the wants, and the don’t-really-need-so-muches, we have to develop a new skill set.
One way to understand the soft problems, is simply to borrow the scientific tools used for hard problems. Einstein, and others, called these ‘thought experiments’. There’s no reason we can’t follow the scientific approach to ask questions about soft realities, we just can’t draw the same conclusions because not everything can be boiled down to numbers.
And that may be another way to understand the difference. Hard reality problems can be boiled down to a set of numbers that represent the reality: The average person has 10,000 thoughts a day. Whereas the soft reality problem can’t be measured like that: The average person worries about death and being unloved as they age. Worry, fear, sadness. How do you measure those things? And, if you could, why would you? What we want and need with soft problems is simply a better understanding of the realities across people. Science isn’t a good tool to go about understanding this. Our minds, however, are excellent tools to solve these problems – we just have to normalize this however we can once we find a system that works.
And, really, we probably have lots of Unscientific approaches that work – we just treat them differently from science because, well, they aren’t science. Next week I’ll go in to a bit more detail with examples.
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