How Problems Like to Be Solved

You cannot explain the complex from the parts

only the parts from the complex

–Buckminster Fuller

Still we have this tendency to regard themes or problems as kind of complex things that have to be broken up into parts in order to be understood or solved.

Breaking up a flower into its parts yields a specific type of information — material, functional, even aesthetical ones — but will not allow to understand it in the context it depends upon. Understanding things without their context is a very limited understanding. And so it is natural that by doing so one generates new contexts simply by generalizing the feature one has found in the example at hand. These new contexts are those of functionality and design, but less of meaning, sense, influence, and importance.

Fuller’s quote was famous in the Counterculture of the Sixties and Seventies, and by influencing Stewart Brand and the Whole Earth Catalog with follow periodicals it made design theory kind of hip. Design theory as a form of systems theory tries to embed the item in question into a broader context form which the items derive meaning, significance, and systemical position. The slogans from this approach are nice, the results more or less independent from the creeds of design theory itself.

Analysing a problem may take two roads. One is to isolate different aspects, presuppositions, consequences, influences, traits, and so forth. The other is a proper description of it.

Analysing a problem in the second regard means describing its features and the broader context in which it is embeded. We solve a problem not by stipulating a context to which the problem may or may not belong. Rather we solve it by continously increasing the complexity in which we find the problem situated. An adequate explanation of a problem becomes the description of the item and its context compelx enough to resolve the question the problem posed at the outset, without the context. That is: A problem looses its problematic feature in that moment in which we have reached the appropriate complexity level of the context in which it is situated. Describing the context at this level becomes the solution of the problem.

This approach works not only in theoretical sciences, but in the catering business as well. A problem stops being a problem in the moment we realize what other items of the ambiance missed to provide a description of a balanced situation. A problem is a call for more information; given these, a description of the context is possible, and the former problem becomes a feature in this environment. This change from problematic to insight is what a solution of a problem is all about.

 

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