Northern Science

Chapter 4

SOLVING PROBLEMS
When we are confronted with a problem or interest, there is a pattern that we can follow that will help us arrive at the best answer possible. That answer might change in time as we discover new facts or disprove things we thought were facts.

To solve the problem we could create a pattern like this:

Doing an experiment is often the best way to demonstrate something. An experiment is a fair test that a person performs where the variables are:
· identified
· held constant and one variable is

By measuring, we can demonstrate that a blue flame in a propane stove is hotter than a yellow flame. By experimenting, we can demonstrate that a given combination of air and propane gas will produce an efficient blue flame.

We will do many experiments in the last two chapters.

However, we do not control the forces working in many situations.

We would like to determine what causes floods in the spring, but we cannot control the variables:

· Amount of snow,
· Thickness or condition of the ice,
· Rate of runoff etc.

We are forced to observe and think. This chapter deals with observing and thinking. Much of observing and thinking includes studying other people's work.

OBSERVE AND THINK: THE BIRTH OF AN IDEA

 One of my favorite ways of cooking moose meat is in a Dutch oven. When the meat, potatoes and vegetables have been simmering in the dutch oven for a long time, they exchange flavors and juices. The combination is far better than the taste of each part separately. The combination of time and dutch oven cooking work well together to p roduce a great result. If we boil the same ingredients in a pot, they cook quickly, but the exchange of flavor doesn't take place. The time involved in cooking a meal has a great affect on the quality of the meal. The dutch oven allows the juices of one to mingle with the juices of the other. Ideas are the same. A good idea may take a long time on the "back burner". Seldom in my life have quick answers been the right answers. It takes time to compare a thought with past experiences. It takes time for a new idea to develop. It takes time to relate a new problem to what is now understood. In order to develop a good understanding of a problem, there is a pattern that always seems to work for me.

THE PATTERN OF THE SEARCH

1. Clearly identify the problem
2. Find out as much about the problem as possible. I gather facts without forming an opinion. I look at similar problems. I look for patterns with other situations. During this time, an early conclusion might block a creative solution.
3. Let the situation "simmer". Don't try to force a solution. This is the "dutch oven" on the back burner.
4. One day the answer comes. It arrives on it's own accord.

Days or years later we might think of another solution when new facts arise.

IDENTIFYING THE PROBLEM

 Clearly identifying the problem is very important. For years I tried to improve my trapping skills. · I tried different methods. · I tried different traplines. · I tried different baits. I finally came to understand. My problem wasn't learning better trapping techniques. My problem was discovering a better way to support my family. The facts were: · I hated killing animals just for their fur. · I hated skinning them. · I hated selling fur at the prices I got. I skinned the animals and the fur buyer "skinned" me.

I did like being outdoors. I really didn't like trapping at all. As a result of that, I wasn't very good at it. Some people love it and are very good at it. I had not clearly identified my problem.

Once I identified my real problem: How do I best support my family? I did some more fact finding. I went to old timers who had been on the river for many years. I talked with one elder in Red Devil, who planted the thought in my mind to finish college and become a teacher.

With the right facts, I headed in that direction. I have enjoyed myself immensely as a teacher and haven't skinned an unfortunate little creature since.

Almost every idea you find in this book came to me over a long period of time. Good ideas take time to simmer.

Among the Native people of Alaska, there are methods of seeking answers that are sometimes similar to and sometimes different from those of Western (Eurocentric) science.

We might wonder why the caribou aren't migrating past our village this year. Certainly weather, food supplies, predators etc. have an impact. However, the elders might tell us we haven't properly cared for the animals we have killed in the past, and they are leaving us for that reason.

Such causes are hard to prove. They confuse the Western model of science. They are nevertheless real to many people. The inventor of the Xerox machine claimed to receive the understanding from a dream. Christopher Columbus said that he knew the winds blew one way above the equator and another way below the equator by spiritual revelation.

My father-in-law said that the Native people now in the lower 48 knew to migrate there from Alaska because they learned from the ducks and geese that there was good land out there. I don't know how we could prove or disprove that today.

When we learn to wait quietly for answers, they come if there has been enough fact finding. The Native people of Alaska were successful in a harsh environment because they were acutely aware of the physical and spiritual forces around them. They were attentive in an intuitive as well as intellectual way.

THE PROCESS

When confronted by a problem, I first:

· Find facts from elders and books. Research and experiment if possible.
· Observe, observe, observe and think
· Let it all simmer in my head.

Some of the thoughts in this book have been over five or six years in the making, some ten to twelve. This might seem too long to you, but that's how the process goes.

THOUGHTS, LIKE VILLAGE PEOPLE, ARE RELATED TO EACH OTHER

Another question bothered me for years. Why is it so difficult to dry socks and clothing by a campfire? Somehow I always ended up with roasted, crispy, damp socks. They burned before they dried.

 Facts: Clothing dries quickly over a wood or oil heater Campfires give off more heat than a heater. Question: Why don't socks dry faster over a campfire than by a wood or oil heater if the above facts are true? Solution: This solution didn't come easily. I didn't have enough facts. I let the question simmer in my mind for several years. During one cold fall boating trip, I was camping in a nylon tent. I used a camp stove to make coffee in the morning. I noticed that the inside of the tent was damp. Then I knew the answer!

In school I learned this:
• Carbon dioxide + WATER + energy(sunlight) = plant fibers

I thought, "when plant fibers burn, the reverse happens."

• Plant fiber burning = Energy (Heat) + Carbon dioxide + WATER

That's where the dampness came from in the tent: from the burning fuel.

That's where the moisture came from in the campfire smoke: from the burning fuel.

• The burning of hydrocarbon fuel produces water.
• There is water in campfire smoke!
• There is no water in the warm air rising from a wood or oil heater. The heat rises from the surface of the stove. The hot, damp, smoky air goes up the stovepipe.

I honestly couldn't think of a way to warm my socks over a campfire without making them more damp. I dry them by the side of the fire now. Radiant heat reaches the socks. This is not a good solution because it is slow, but the understanding has kept me from hanging my clothing directly over a fire and having "crispy" burned socks and gloves again.

This was an exciting discovery. A little while later, the answer to that question gave me the answer to another question I had been pondering for several years.

Problem:

My hands were cold while running a chainsaw in the wintertime. To warm them, I held them in the exhaust of the chainsaw, allowing the warm exhaust to flow over them. It felt good for a short time. Within minutes of cutting wood, my hands were colder than before. I couldn't figure this out.

 Facts: Warming in the exhaust helped for a short time. Within minutes my hands were terribly cold. New fact: There is water in the hot exhaust of burned hydrocarbon fuel, whether it is wood, gasoline, or diesel. Also: I knew that wet clothing is a very poor insulator for heat. Solution: My gloves were actually getting damp in the exhaust of the chainsaw. Initiall, the warm exhaust helped my hands. As soon as my hands were withdrawn from the exhaust, the dampened gloves allowed the heat to conduct away from my hands faster than ever. The true solution was to: · Keep my hands away from the exhaust · Bring dry gloves · Set the saw down often, and let circulation return to my hands. (Holding any tool firmly cuts off blood circulation.) A new application came from understanding this. I was watching a TV show that showed desert mice. The show said that the mice never drank water. They didn't say where the mouse got his water from. But I knew. He could eat a dry seed, and I knew that when he digested it, it would give off   energy + carbon dioxide + water It always excites me when one idea links to another one and many answers come from one discovery. People have asked me about the above conclusion. I ask them, "Have you ever seen water come from the exhaust pipe of a car as it is warming up? If so, where does the water come from?" It could be condensation from the air taken into the carburetor, but that moisture went in as vapor and went out as very hot vapor. It didn't condense. The water comes from the burning of gasoline. Another example of related thoughts Old Tom built a home. He was concerned that his wife, Melissa, would have a warm house when he passed away. He built the house, but had trouble with the oil stove. It kept sooting up. He tried adding stovepipe to increase the draft upward in the pipe. It didn't help. He tried different fuel. That didn't help either. After many months, he discovered the cause. He had made the house very airtight to avoid cold drafts. In order for air to go up the stovepipe, fresh air has to come into the house to even the pressure. After a little while of burning (pulling a vacuum) on the house, the stove started sooting for lack of air. His solution was to drill small holes through the floor right under the stove. It got enough air and burned very well after that. Cross section of chainsaw tank The next spring, he had trouble with his chainsaw. He could not understand why it would run for a while, then starve for gas. He checked the fuel, and the carburetor. Both were fine. Again, it ran for a little while and quit. Then, after thinking, he understood. What do you think he did? Yet another example of related thoughts As people play sports, they perspire when they get hot. It takes heat to evaporate a liquid. Our bodies perspire to cool us off. Mothers use this same principle when their children have a fever. They sponge the child with water. The water cools the child a little, but evaporation is what truly cools the child. Heat comes from the child's body to evaporate the water. Later in life, I noticed that when I took a warm off. The evaporating water took heat from my body. Years later, my propane bottle seemed to have run out of propane. I went outside to see why the propane wasn't coming out of the bottle. I shook the bottle and it felt half full. Then I understood the problem. It takes heat to evaporate the liquid propane in the bottle to turn it to a gas. The outside temperature was -45°F. There wasn't enough heat available in the cold propane and air to cause the propane to evaporate. I thought about wrapping the bottle in a blanket. This wouldn't help. It needs a heat source. A blanket keeps heat in, but it doesn't give heat. I put a light bulb beside the propane tank, and covered it with the blanket. Soon the propane came out of the bottle to the stove. We had a flame under the coffee pot. We also had flames outside our window. The light bulb caught the blanket on fire! Who would think there is a connection between a propane bottle, a mother caring for a feverish baby, a bathroom chill and an athlete in a sporting event? They are all working on the same principle. Science ties many activities together.
FAILURE

Failure in this process is usually due to:
• Not clearly defining the problem. Clear answers usually need clear questions.
• A shortage of facts, similar to trying to make soup with no ingredients other than water. If you are looking, the facts are probably under your nose, or they will come. We are surrounded by science.

QUESTIONS

1. What often happens when we try to dry socks over a campfire?

2. What are the two main causes of failure to arrive at a creative solution?

3. Explain why my gloves were damp in the exhaust of the chainsaw.

4. A friend had a root cellar. He was going to burn candles in it to provide enough heat to keep it dry. Predict what would happen if he did this.

5. _______ + ________ +_______ = plant fibers

Plant fibers burning = ________ +________ +_______.

6. What does warming hands in a chainsaw's exhaust have to do with a mouse in the desert?

7. What connection was there between Tom's airtight cabin and his chainsaw?

8. What relationship is there between a bottle of propane, an athlete, a mother caring for a feverish baby, and a bathroom chill after a shower?

PROBLEM SOLVING... CONCLUSIONS

Very seldom have my quick decisions been good ones. Good science ideas take time. They are linked with each other. Do not be troubled if answers don't come right away. Let you thoughts be like a good dutch oven. Let the "juices and flavor" of one ingredient blend with the others.

If you can:

1. Clearly identify the problem.
2. Find out as much about the problem as possible without forming an opinion. New measurements and experiments add to existing knowledge.
3. Let the situation "simmer" in your head. Don't try to force a solution. This is the "dutch oven" on the back burner.

One day, the answer will come. It's one of the greatest feelings in the world!

Don't worry about questions that don't have answers yet. They are on the back burner simmering. Good cooks know that you can't rush good soup.

NATURAL HIGH

There is a great sense of excitement when you finally solve a problem on your own. It gives a natural high that cannot be imitated. Guard your thoughts well. They will be handy months and years from now. You will not forget them because they originated in your own mind.