All Life is Problem Solving

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Karl Popper

Over time, I’ve been reminded over and over of the phrase:

“All life is problem solving.”

From birth to death, humans spend our entire lives solving problems.

Many of these problems are mundane: ‘I’m hungry.’ ‘Where is it safe to sleep?’

Others are more abstract: ‘How do I solve this equation?’ ‘How do I sell 10,000 widgets?’ ‘How do I cure this disease?’

Philosopher of science Karl Popper first wrote “All life is problem solving”. He thought that trial-and-error was behind all problem solving and, really, the growth of all knowledge. He used fancy philosopher-speak and called this process ‘conjecture and refutation’.

We put out a conjecture (guess) and we see if we’re wrong. Then we learn.

New scientific theories and their experiments obviously work this way. But so do new products and new businesses. And new music or art.

Even amoebas solve their problems with trial and error — grasping out for food in the primordial soup. Humans are the same, we just have more complex problems and ways to learn from trial and error.

The grand narrative of evolution is all about problem solving. It’s trial and error, all the way down.

I love this view. ‘All life is problem solving’ has a spiritual quality to me.

If it’s true that the growth of knowledge always requires conjecture and refutation, then a life of adventure, learning, and entrepreneurship is aligned with some deep aspect of the world.

The challenge of life is to make bold conjectures in the world and to learn if they fail.

All life is problem solving. So let’s solve problems!

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