I try to keep up in current events, I really do. But sometimes reading the economic news tires me out. My husband attempted to rouse me from my accidental nap on the couch asking me what “heuristic” might mean in the sentence, “Jazz improvisation is a heuristic process.”
“The dictionary is on my desk.”
“But can you just remind me what heuristic means? Do you know?" he asked very nicely.
“Um, figure it out,” I said, throwing the paper to the floor.
“You're right,” he said, already in the dictionary, “heuristic implies figuring it out, or exploratory problem solving.”
“Ah," I said.
Sounds more like current economic theories than music to my ears. America is exploring what will happen if we borrow to spend our way back to financial solvency. Will it work? No body knows. It's heuristic heroics in action.
Heuristics, the word and the theories are worth study. It comes from the Greek to discover and is akin to the Old Irish for "I have found," and gives us the word "eureka," which Archimedes is said to have exclaimed when he discovered a method for determining the purity of gold. In the 1849 California Gold Rush miners often cried out “Eureka” when they found gold. A quaint town in northern California carries Eureka as its name today.
Gold mining brings us right back to speculation and it is speculation that a heuristic process uses to serve as a guide in the investigation or solution of a problem. The goal, of course, is to learn through a series of subsequent discoveries or findings. Hang onto to this premise about serial learning, it's important.
In Computer Science, heuristic can refer to using a problem-solving technique in which the most appropriate solution of several, found by alternative methods, is selected at successive stages of a program for use in the next step of the program.
Heuristic is also likened to a rule of thumb. It's a simplification or educated guess that reduces or limits the search for solutions in domains that are difficult and poorly understood. "Difficult, poorly understood," we are in the right key and scale for the economic woes.
Heuristic also implies providing aid in the solution of a problem with aid that is otherwise unjustified or incapable of justification. How do you say "bingo" in Jazz lingo?
The antonym is algorithmic; a commonsense rule (or set of rules) intended to increase the probability of solving some problem.
So our government efforts to solve the economic meltdown in America seem to fit a definition frenetically heuristic. Unlike algorithms, heuristics do not guarantee optimal, or even feasible solutions and are often used with no theoretical guarantee. Doesn't that define the economic solutions we've seen thus far fairly well?
I hope the powers that be will at least wait to observe some actual intended consequences of the $700 billion TARP and the $825 Billion Stimulus, before deciding we should borrow anymore from the future. If the first exploratory efforts don't work, how would that indicate we should print or borrow more money? And shouldn't we have voice? Maybe you'll send your elected representatives a jazzy note of your harmonic discord soon.