2 Pillars of Problem Solving [Part 1 – Einstein]

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We often tend to think of some people as geniuses. That characterization has a subtext associated with it. That subtext is that some people have extraordinary and innate abilities that others don’t possess.

However, in most cases, you can study, break down, or even replicate the thought process of a genius.

One of the greatest geniuses of all time is Albert Einstein. Being always fascinated by his theories, I have been always drawn to read his original work, for example the Theory of Relativity as explained by him.

A great advantage of reading Einstein’s writing is that you get to learn not only his theories the way he saw them, but also the thought process he followed to reach those theories.

That thought process is what I’d like to talk about here.

I can isolate 2 principles that he would always follow in his thought process. These 2 principles may seem pretty common or even obvious to some people, but the flawless execution of these 2 principles is what leads to ingenuity.

First and foremost is the Logical Thinking. Everyone agrees that logical thinking is the corner stone of any sound problem solving, but not that many people are quite logical and rational in practice.

In logical thinking you should make sure that at any stage of problem solving your assertions are logical consequence of previously established assertions. In other words, you should follow a logical flow of reasoning throughout from assumptions to conclusions, and not be affected by emotions or fallacies.

However, logical thinking is more than that.

One of the most important parts of logical thinking is to validate your initial assumptions. It’s not enough to be rational in your reasoning, but you should evaluate your starting point before even you start reasoning.

For example, for a long time physicists, who are among the most logical people, reasoned in different ways as to how the absolute time and ether affected experiments. They assumed that the time is something that passes at the same rate no matter where you are or what you do. Also they assumed there was something called ether that filled empty space everywhere, because like waves that need water to ride on, light waves should need ether to ride in.

Of course, their experiments rejected their theories at the time. So physicists tried to change their reasoning to come up with different models. But their experiments rejected their explanations again and again.

It was Albert Einstein who questioned their assumptions and naturally and easily concluded the Theory of Relativity.

One of Einstein’s habits was getting the facts and running away from interpretations. When he would attend scientific seminars he would pay attention to the facts presented, but as soon as the speakers would start talking about their interpretation or opinions about the facts, he would get up and leave the seminar.

Often times, these opinions are so pervasive and popular that we consider them as facts right off the bat. They simply go unnoticed and unquestioned. The absolute time and ether were two such things. When Einstein questioned them, the Theory of Relativity naturally emerged.

So the first pillar of problem solving is logical thinking, and the most important part of logical thinking is meticulous separation of facts and opinions. That separation is very difficult in practice. Great solutions often arise when that separation is astutely done.

The second pillar of problem solving is what elevates one to genius level… Find that out in the part 2 of this article.

Dr Eric Amidi