Sunday, May 25, 2008

The law of wagons...

OK, this one borders on the incoherent.

But back in my university days, I used to travel to Lahore by train and would then take public transport (wagon) to get to the hostel.

Some days, when it got particularly late, the wagons would not come. This is before cell phones became common place, and there was no one to call anyway, so I'd just wait. Sometimes it would take half an hour or more, but eventually, I'd always make it to the hostel.

So that's when I formulated what I jokingly called the law of wagons. Which states that if you wait long enough, a wagon will come.

Now this probably sounds completely inane, but standing out there at the train station and waiting for a wagon to come, it made a lot of sense to me. It meant that the problem was not that there were no wagons (an unsolvable problem), but that the next one might not show up for a while ( a waiting problem, still painful but solvable).

It was just a way of whiling away the time of course, but sometimes re-framing a problem does help to solve it, or it least makes it less painful to deal with.

In fact I recently discovered that parking also follows the law of wagons - call it the law of parking if you will, which (predictably) states that if you drive far enough you will find parking.

Again the problem is not that all the parking slots in the world are finished (an insolvable problem), but that one does not happen to be available at the time and place you require it right now (a solvable problem, since you can drive around till you find one).

It does not save you the long walk if you find parking far away, but at least you know that there can be more than one solution to a problem, and fixating too hard on the unsolvable part of it might prevent you from finding solutions which are at least possible.

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