# DRMacIver's Notebook

Landmarks

Landmarks

I think part of why I like solving problems so much is that they serve as landmarks in the unknown.

If you’ve got a problem you don’t know how to solve, then solving it necessarily involves learning something new.

That’s not a deep insight. It’s just what “don’t know how to solve” means.

But the flipside of this is that the fact that you have the problem means that you know something about that discovery: It has to solve the problem, and you do understand the problem.

Discovery is about walking up to the edge of the familiar and stepping over.

You start from where you are, and then you go to something new.

Normally, this is bewildering. You step out of familiar territory and are in a bewildering landscape with a million directions you can go in, and no clear way to choose between them.

After all, if you knew where you were going then it wouldn’t be unfamiliar territory.

But when you have a problem to solve, it gives you a clear sense of direction.

It’s as if you can see the shape of the solution towering in the distance, telling you which to go: This way. Towards me.

You can evaluate your unfamiliar discoveries against your problem - do they solve it? Do they help understand it? Do they at least do something interesting with it?

The problem does not, exactly, tell you which way to go. There will be dead ends, there will be detours. The landscape of the unfamiliar is mysterious and hard to navigate.

But you can tell if you’re getting closer.

People aren’t for any one simple thing.

But one of the things I’ve always known I am for is expanding the boundaries of human understanding.

I’d like it to be in large ways. I certainly haven’t managed this yet, but I have managed many small ways.

I’m not exactly content with that, but I am pleased that I have.

But one of the difficulties is knowing where to start, what to do.

The unfamiliar is vast, and “expand the boundaries of human knowledge” isn’t exactly a clear mandate. How can you possibly pick a direction? I don’t know where to start.

I of course know the answer, even if I haven’t always been good at executing on it.

Because there’s a little voice in my head that when it hears the question, answers thus:

Yes, that does sound like a problem, David. Have you tried solving it?