23.02.2016 - Optimization and discovery
There are goals that are imaginable, and there are goals that aren't.
Contemplate going to the Moon.
There it is in the sky, just a light-second away. Enormous distance in a direction that you can't easily walk.
But you can imagine getting there.
There is space between you and the goal, and you know how to move through space.
Maybe you could build a tower, maybe you can fly up there in a balloon, maybe you can fire yourself up from a cannon, or notice the cannon's recoil and use that to build a rocket.
There is the brute-force solution of crossing the space.
HOW is the other question, of optimizing and searching until you come up with a plan that might work.
The key point it - you can imagine getting there.
You can imagine curing cancer - all it takes is removing all the cancer cells from the body, however hard it might be.
You can imagine assassinating a dictator - he is a man, there are that many ways to make one stop existing, there are that many ways to approach him, there are that many ways to get away with it (if necessary).
The rest is an optimization and path finding problem.
But imagine, say, that you want to get to a parallel world.
To Narnia, or Valhalla, or something else entirely.
How can you get there...?
There is no space between you and the goal. No imaginable path to be taken, no matter how difficult.
Not even the brute-force approach.
You can walk in any direction, but there is no walking between universes.
You can think all over the known patterns, but there are no technology to access other worlds.
Here you are, on your map of the universe, and there is the goal - floating off the map, unconnected and unrelated to it.
This is no longer an optimization problem. It is a problem of discovering the existence of a path.
A thousand years ago, curing smallpox might have been like that. There was nothing you could imagine that would lead to the solution.
Making a lightning would have been like that. There were no lightnings in your map of the universe, no imaginable way to make one.
Getting heard on the other side on the planet the instant you said something would be like that. Sound, no matter how loud, can't travel that fast or that far.
And yet, if you know the goal exists, you can do something about that.
Thousands of years ago people knew about static electricity.
Some thinking, some mapping out, some luck with vine and different metals, and you get something that behaves just like a lightning. From there, it's optimization.
Long ago people knew that diseases spread, that they can be contagious. You might think that there was something to transfer it.
You kept looking, and eventually saw it in a microscope you made by accident. Tiny bugs, germs, that spread it.
Someone noticed that having a weaker strand of the virus makes you immune to the big one - vaccination.
Someone noticed that a certain moss kills the germs - antibiotics.
And then, there was space between you and elimination of most diseases.
Hertz, who discovered the radio waves, when asked what practical use there is for them, famously said "there are none", even as he put instant global talking on the map.
Imaginable and unimaginable.
Optimization and discovery.
The first takes work, the second takes an open mind, ability to notice something that is odd, that leads beyond your map.
Not just notice it, but use it.
The easy way is not to trust any opinion you formed longer that a couple years ago. Maybe you recently noticed something that would make the unimaginable problem imaginable, if not solvable?
That is the key of discovery.
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