Do you know what a Category Error is?
A Category Error is a problem that is so poorly defined it becomes impossible to solve. Dan Simmon's Time Traveler explains it well.
The Time Traveler sipped his Scotch and looked at me. He said, “Let me give you an analogy...”
God, I hated and distrusted analogies. I said nothing.
“Let’s imagine,” said the Time Traveler, “that on December eighth, Nineteen forty-one, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt spoke before a joint session of Congress and asked them to declare war on aviation.”
“That’s absurd,” I said.
“Is it?” asked the Time Traveler. “The American battleships, cruisers, harbor installations, Army barracks, and airfields at Pearl Harbor and elsewhere in Hawaii were all struck by Japanese aircraft. Imagine if the next day Roosevelt had declared war on aviation... threatening to wipe it out wherever we found it. Committing all the resources of the United States of America to defeating aviation, so help us God.”
“That’s just stupid,” I said. If I’d ever been afraid of this Time Traveler, I wasn’t now. He was obviously a mental defective.“The planes, the Japanese planes,” I said, “were just a method of attack... a means... it wasn’t aviation that attacked us at Pearl Harbor, but the Empire of Japan. We declared war on Japan and a few days later its ally, Germany, lived up to its treaty with the Japanese and declared war on us. If we’d declared war on aviation, on goddamned airplanes rather than the empire and ideology that launched them, we’d never have...”
I stopped. What had he called it? Category Error. Making the problem unsolvable through your inability – or fear – of defining it correctly.
Read the entire story. It is a message from our future.