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Problem Solving and the Physical World


Problem Solving


Physical World


Using the relationship between the physical and abstract worlds gives us the following framework of questions to help solve problems:  
  • State the problem
  • Identify the involved objects and their properties and extent
  • Detail how the ojects are related
  • Describe the observed actions of the objects and actions to those objects
  • List ideas of possible causes of the problem
  • Explore what the ideas predict
  • Test the ideas against the observed evidence and eliminate ideas that the evidence disproves 
  • Design and complete additional tests if required

Defect problem solving

The approach to problem solving outline in the introduction can been seen in more detail when you apply it to defect problem solving. Imaging a system has been working and there is now a problem. The tables below detail how you can identify the problem and know how to fix it.

The problem

 State the problem  
 Write a description of the problem.
   Is      Is Not
 What  Detail what objects are involved in the problem    
 Detail what objects are not involved but might have reasonably been expected
 Where          State where the problem is located            
 State where the problem is not found but might have reasonably been expected to be
 When          Specify when the problem(s) occurred                    
 Specify when the problem(s) did not occur but might reasonably have been expected        
 Extent      Quantify the what, where and when for the problem. For example:
  • How many objects are affected?
  • How many at a particular location?
  • How many objects were affected over a period of time?
 Quantify the what, where and when for everything that might reasonable have been expected to be part of the problem but is not. For example:
  • How many objects that might have been affected but were not?
  • How many objects not affect at a particular location
  • How many objects were not affected over a period of time?
 Change  Detail changes made that preceded the problem :
  • What
  • Where
  • When
  • Extent
 Detail what was not changed:
  • What
  • Where
  • When 
  • Extent

Cause and affect

List the cause and effect actions between the objects involved


Proposed Causes 

 Proposed Cause of the problem   
 What does the proposed cause predict should happen?
 What does the proposed cause predict should not happen?
 Cause 1
 Cause 2    


Check for evidence that challenges the possible cause. 

If there is evidence provisionally eliminate the possible cause. 

Evaluate Possible Causes
Does not explain
Explains only if
If “X” is the true cause, how does it explain both the IS and IS NOT information?
What assumptions have to be made to explain the evidence?
State most probable cause
Of the causes tested against the observed behavior, which best explains the Is and IS NOT data?
Describe a test to support or disprove the cause


The possible cause(s) that are not provisionally eliminated are the mostly to be the actual cause.

Design and conduct tests for the remaining possible causes. By continuing the process you should arrive at the cause.