Wednesday, May 16, 2012

“S’il n’y a pas de solution, c’est qu’il n’y a pas de problème!”

Are some problems unsolvable?...

Gödel's incompleteness theorems state: (1) if you can list out the base assumptions of a system, then you cannot know all  logically true statements possible in the system or the system is inconsistent, i.e. contains a logical contradiction and (2) if you can use the system to prove the system is consistent - does not contain a logical contradiction - then the system must be inconsistent. There's a nice little rant here at the University of Michigan's website where a mathematician complaining about the misapplication of Gödel's incompleteness theorems ends up appearing to support intuitive reasoning over logical reasoning, i.e. that intuitive reasoning is more complete than logical reasoning.  I'm not sure if he's aware of this; I may pester him...  

So, thinking of solvable problems, I began to wonder if there's some problems, such as the banking fiasco, that are literally unsolvable.

This started quite a few hours ago when I posted on Roger's blog about the nature of Danish Janteloven.  Janteloven - Jante's Law - is a principal of cultural reasoning in Scandinavian countries.  In essence, it says "Don't dream big.  It's a bad idea.  Stop it."

To an American that sounds pretty wretched, especially the way that they go about expressing this, which is mocking anyone who tries to leave their caste or social structure.

However, I'd also note that this appears to be a cultural paradigm that has allowed the amazing Scandinavian social support network to flourish.

Social Darwinism - those that try will or might succeed, and everyone should try to advance themselves - is part of American culture.  But in Danish and other Scandinavian cultures, this behavior is frowned on.  Thus, in America, when many people look at the poor, they say "Why didn't they try harder?"  In Denmark the attitude is "We must help them (because they are where they belong.)"

On the other end of it, Danes are often a little... conformist... Very conformist, actually, to a level that's fairly astounding to Americans.  They also have the mind-model of "We're not hierarchical because we call everyone by their first name and the Queen goes biking through Copenhagen."  However, royals, the royal family, the general caste system, etc., are incredibly important to them in daily life.

I think it comes down to the "human nature" problem, and the fact you can't have a culture that has everything.  In Denmark, the social support network works simply because it fits really well with their culture.  In the USA, I don't think you'd get the level of both empathy and cooperation - and peace - that you get in Denmark.  You can't have a strong social welfare system in a culture that supports striving and competition.

I don't know that this is true, but I suspect it.

But then that goes back to the banking problem.  We're covering hundreds of trillions of dollars in derivatives, something like 15-20 times the size of the economy itself.

I'm not sure how this snuck past everyone, but I'm not sure it's fixable.  No matter what we do to try and fix it, it will lead to severe shocks in the system (at least how each way is played out in my head.)

So, it's an insolvable problem.  Other insolvable problems include things, for example, like our two-party system.  I'm not sure with communications and nation-wide networks being what they are that we can have new parties or can add a new, serious party.  This is also a problem, because you end up with this big bulky list of things supported by each party.  Half you agree with and half you don't.  (Plus they then go ahead and do exactly what they please.)

So, is there a point to caring?  I'm not sure.


  1. the nature of the American (generally) is that ALL problems are solvable.
    We should have nukes. What about waste? Don't worry, we'll find a solution when we need to.
    Ditto our individual cars.

    Your point is probably correct. But it's unAmerican!

  2. When I think about it, I don't know how the Danes feel about unsolvable problems. We were all scientists and lab techs. Janteloven came up, but, almost by definition, the subset I was exposed to assumes problems are solvable.

    Yeah, energy might be another huge "unsolvable problem" - or at least, not solvable without incurring major costs and damage to the environment.

    Realistically we have a serious supply problem with any fossil fuel other than coal, and coal is possibly worse than nuclear.

    Coal has things like "The Great Smog of '52," nuclear has problems like Fukushima (for a good debate on the death statistics from that accident, look here: )

    What I worry about is everybody trying to chase "the best" - like solar, which doesn't look realistic - and opting out of solid, reasonable methods of mitigating a bad situation.