The Principle of Meta
Why We Fail to Solve Specific Problem Types
Meta works fundamentally by pattern matching. The first counter-intuitive thing about how it works is that what it’s looking for are, generically, not ‘things’ or ‘events’, but ‘gaps’ and ‘lapses’.
It’s counter-intuitive because gaps and lapses indicate a lack, and looking for lacks is looking for things that are initially posited as not there, which would make the search futile from the beginning.
The phenomenological observation that overcomes the apparent contradiction could be stated as the following: “Where there is a lapse or gap in thinking, that lapse, or gap insists upon itself repeatedly.”
This observation implicitly underlies numerous verified observations about the way the mind works, from psychological repression to our inability to discern the basic reasons for cyclical poverty.
The repeated insistence that characterizes them, in fact, makes them some of the most verified observations we have. The implication is that we do in fact see what is apparently lacking, but in an efficient way. The apparent contradiction is the origin of the cognitive dissonance we experience.
The first is the gap that defines the problem. We see a problem initially because there’s a gap between an expected result and the actual result.
The second is between the problem as stated, which is really the symptom of the problem, and the actual problem, which is usually thought as the cause of the problem.
The third is the lapse where we skip over the obvious while thinking about it, and thus don’t immediately solve it.
These in turn arises due to a gap between the heuristics we apply, and the reality being applied to.
This last gap is what we’re trying to find and bridge, and can arise either because we misunderstand the specifics of the reality of that moment and apply the wrong heuristics, or because our heuristics, which are typically a set of assumptions that are also presumed to go together, contain an assumption that is invalid, either generally or in a specific situation.
In terms of understanding complex systems, such as any non-trivial piece of software, we must do so intuitively, since our ability to do so in a fully transparent way is limited to very simple systems. We’re also quite good at it, with the result being that we quite often see the source of the problem very quickly. Getting a “second pair of eyes” to look at a problem often solves it very quickly precisely — out of sometimes millions of lines of code, we just happen to have the 25 or so lines that the problem arises from right up on our screen.
Problems that we have difficulty with, especially recurrent difficulty, where it’s not just a matter of not being ‘on’ that day, often arise and recur because the solution itself is counterintuitive. Were the solution intuitive, we’d solve it and barely give it a second thought.
That we’re good at intuitively understanding things but poor at recognizing the heuristics that help provide that ability accounts for our tendency to fail at solving specific problem types, while simultaneously being repeatedly successful at solving other problem types.
By pattern matching against low level and high-level event patterns (low and high being gauges of how meaningful they are, taken on their own), what is insisting repeatedly both becomes clearer and correlated to the specific context.
Simultaneously, that lapse or gap, once identified, becomes part of the context, making similar lapses or gaps easier to identify.