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On the misapplication of the principle of brute force

June 20, 2011

Brute force is a simple concept that is easy to understand and is remarkably easy to use and misuse because it works almost every time.  Basically, if you have a problem that you really want to solve and you think hard enough about it, you will eventually find a solution that is good enough.  Problem is, there are a lot of interesting words in the previous sentence, and you need to understand them well enough to apply the principle carefully enough that you don’t break too many things along the way.

The problem with breaking things is that, while you can repair things, it may be the case that the object that got broken cannot be repaired enough to work and a suitable replacement may not be available until after you need it.

Without sufficient care, the unwanted breaking-things side-effect of the brute force principle can result in sufficient angry people who would rather you’d stop and, failing that, wish that there was some way that you could cease to exist, or whatever, so that the problems that you are creating aren’t there.  Because problems that result from breaking useful things can be terribly hard to solve in a way that you can always solve the problems you need to solve before the need arises.  There are many interesting examples of attempts to tackle this problem, the oldest known example of a written form that I am aware of is the I-Ching* book which was a precursor to Taoist philosophy and was written well before someone had the idea of accurately recording history.

The problem is that, without some kind of brute force, you cannot create any more refined methods of solving problems.  Thus: brute force must exist, must be used, always creates too many problems, and needs bringing under control in such a way that a brute force solution to the problem of throwing a spanner into the works doesn’t get solved in time to stop the solution of the brute force paradox.

* Sometimes transliterated as yi-qing or similar depending on your chosen chinese-english transliteration scheme. The usual english translation of the name is ‘book of changes’ though ‘classic of changes’ is also used, though the problem of accurately translating the name of the book appears to be rather difficult from the point of view of linguistic complexity.

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