Something I’ve noticed recently is that problems become a lot easier to solve if you describe them in detail. That is, attempting to solve a vague, multi-faceted issue is practically impossible, but cutting it down to a set of discrete problems seems to make it much more digestible. Part of this is, no doubt, that we make things more tangible, but I think there’s more to it that that.

Why is it, for instance, that the solved problems in a particular field of study are well known, but it’s not obvious what the unsolved problems are? My understanding is that even talented scientists have to “load into their head” the full landscape of known work in order to figure out where the gaps are. If they tried to describe ALL the gaps, they’d never stop - the number of problems that could be worked on is infinite.

And while that is strictly true, I still think more could be done there. It’s pretty clear that, for example, theoretical physicists don’t have a ton of variance in what they work on. If we asked one to describe “what are the interesting unsolved problems in your field that people are working on” the list wouldn’t be that long.

So it seems that between the illumination of our existing knowledge and the darkness of the unknown there is a silver lining where humanity is bustling, trying to spread a little further beyond. Seemingly the only way to know where that silver lining is…is to go to graduate school.

Part of me wishes that comprehensive, detailed descriptions of the unsolved problems in a given field were published in the same way that our solutions currently are. It’s not obvious to me how possible this is, but the current attempts are quite crude [1] and I think by enumerating the problems clearly, we’d be able to surmise solutions more quickly.

[1] Dev. “Unsolved problems in biology - The state of current thinking” Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology