Sensory input and economies.

Expanding on my metaphor from yesterday, let’s posit three different types of sensory inputs/equations: Trivial (sensory input that is not necessarily effortless to process, but not taxing), Unsolvable (puts you into overload), and Solvable (requires noticeable amounts of processing power).  Unsolvable equations represent either completely  new data, or complex combinations of problems that would be Trivial on their own, but combine in difficult ways.

More concretely:  let’s say you have two sensations, A and B.  Either one on its own is a Taxing problem, but together they’re Unsolvable.  If you manage to move A into the Trivial category (by repeated exposure and processing), that moves A+B into Solvable.  And when you have solved it, you have A, B, and A+B in the trivial category, which will come in handy when you see A+B+C later.  In this way, very small differences in initial processing capabilities can compound into vastly different levels of ability.  Going into overload isn’t just painful, it cuts you off from learning the things that could prevent it next time.

This suggests a huge payoff to investing problems that are right on the border between Trivial and Solvable.  Not only do you move that one thing off your plate, and move some other problems from Unsolvable into Solvable, you create an environment where you can eventually solve the other components of that previously Unsolvable problem.  

[The following paragraphs are free-association at best]

For some reason I’m reminded of Jane Jacob’s The Economy of Cities, in which she postulates that most economic growth follows the following pattern:

  1. I’m doing a thing.
  2. Hurray, I invented a slightly more efficient way to do that thing.
  3. Wait, I could use that new invention to do this other thing.  There’s no demand for it yet because no one knows they want it, but there will be.
  4. Welp, I invited a whole new sector of the economy.

Tim Harford implicitly talked about this in Adapt.  The best economics have several interlocking industries with moderate overlap.  Similar enough that innovations in one can help enough, but dissimilar enough to cause them to approach problems in different ways.  Adapt as a whole is about trying a lot of things quickly, with the expectation that most of them will fail.  One important component of that is minimizing the cost of failure, and one important component of that is recognizing failure quickly.  Which sounds like a sensory problem.

Like I said, this is free association.    I know I’m on to something, but I’m not sure what yet.