I was waiting at the station the other day, waiting for a train, and I happened to be sitting next to a guy that was working on some very complicated math problems, or problem. I wasn’t sure if it was a bunch of different problems or if it was on big problem that was somehow interconnected to all the rest. Because he had them written on several different pieces of paper. He would write a bunch of equations, pause, and stare off into the distance, and then write some more. There were many people walking around, and it is summertime, so there are a lot of distractions that can steal your attention from a math problem, if you catch my drift.
Sometimes you can only focus on a problem for a certain amount of time before you need to give your brain a break. It’s kind of like lifting weights. You can only do so many sets before you need to set the weight down and give your muscles a chance to repair themselves. That’s how you get bigger muscles. When you lift weights, you are actually breaking down the muscle fiber, and then if you give yourself enough rest in between the exercise with proper nutrition, your muscles will rebuild themselves better, stronger, faster, just like Steve Austin.
Sometimes working on a mental problem is the same way. You need to give your brain a rest. I don’t know if there are brain fibers that break down and grow bigger, although it certainly can seem that way if you’ve ever done a lot of math homework. Einstein said that you could never solve a problem at the same level where it was created. So maybe staring off into the distance every so often gives your brain to look at things in different perspective.
Finally after the guy seemed to stare off into the distance longer than normal, I asked him what he was doing. I didn’t think I was disturbing his thought process. His body language seemed to indicate that he was taking a longer than usual rest. He told me he was working on some thermodynamics applications for his business. He is a chemical engineer at a local beer distillery, and he was working on some equations that are related to the process before fermentation. He was that they result that they were getting was adequate, but if they could streamline it a little bit, without giving up any quality, they would be able to increase their profit margin.
He said it’s all a matter of results and behavior. He said the problem is when you focus on only one side of the equation. The results, in this case, were the end product. The different brands of beer that his company produces. There are specific ways to measure results in his particular case. He explained that it’s important to stay away from measuring results subjectively, because obviously different people will have different opinions. It’s important to have an objective way to measure the results you get, so you can reproduce them or even improve on them. Specific gravity, alkalinity, color refraction index are different ways to measure the exact results. The other side of the equation is behavior. In this case the behavior is how the chemicals interact with each other in the fermenting tank. Time, temperature, sugar levels, ingredients of the initial mix are all things they can vary. The trick is to vary the behavior and see what the easiest and quickest ways are to get the results that you want. If you can find a relatively easy behavior that will give you the results you want, you’ve got a winner. Then you can go about varying your behavior and see if you can even improve on your results, which is even better.
I wish I would have gotten his name, or business card though. Going on a tour of a local brewery would be a pretty cool experience. I never thought that brewing beer was such an involved, scientific process. Go figure.