What is a Feasible Solution?

Any configuration of society in which individual human beings hold down individual jobs (even for a while) and are mated with some person of the appropriate gender (even for a while) counts as what optimization theorists call a “feasible solution” by which they mean only something non-contradictory, not necessarily a good solution. So human society IS, in that very specific literal sense, solving these problems, though the solutions may be very bad ones.

What I have been trying to say in other sections is that the “feasible solution” society arrives at in its roundabout way is indeed a very bad one. We do have evidence that people with good jobs that they like doing, compatible spouses (that they like doing!), and good friends as well, do NOT commit serious crimes. Serious crime poses not only severe problems for the economy but obvious includes all the violence our society suffers from, and I see all that suffering as avoidable.

It is almost impossible to avoid a conflict of terminology here. People with a background in humanities will see the nastier parts of human society as problems, and look for ‘solutions’, by which they mean ways of moving society forward to some better future. People with a background in systems analysis or operations research use the terms quite differently, and there is not much we can do to change this. Elsewhere I have written about a related problem involving the terms ‘positive feedback’ and ‘negative feedback’, which in ordinary parlance have come to mean ‘praise’ and ‘blame’ respectively. In technical usage these same terms mean roughly ‘error-reinforcing input’ and ‘error-correcting input’, respectively, which in some contexts turns out to be almost the opposite to the more common ones. All of these problems of terminology could disappear with development of new languages, but I recognize that any hint about inventing or improving languages is taken as evidence of insanity. If you don’t share this prejudice you might look at Acronymic Language or Linguistics and Language Synthesis .

Copyright © 1998 Douglas P. Wilson

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