Personal Online Journal

Monday, July 28, 2014

That's How the Light Gets In

or How not to be Paralyzed by Perfection

Bro Jarvis uses the traveling salesman problem to illustrate why we must not try to reach perfection before choosing to act good enough. ("That's How the Light Gets In" Tyler J. Jarvis, BYU Devotional, July 09, 2013, YouTube, MP3)

Step 1: Admit and Accept Imperfection

if I am willing to accept an answer that is only close to the perfect one—a good answer but not the perfect answer, an answer with some error in it—as soon as I give up on perfection, something amazing happens. We can get a very good approximate solution to the Traveling Salesman Problem very quickly. In fact, not just very quickly, but blazingly, astoundingly fast.
Be kind regarding human frailty—your own as well as that of those who serve with you in a Church led by volunteer, mortal men and women. Except in the case of His only perfect Begotten Son, imperfect people are all God has ever had to work with. That must be terribly frustrating to Him, but He deals with it. So should we. ("Lord, I Believe", Jeffrey R. Holland, Apr 2013)

Step 2. Work Hard to Get Your Best Approximation

accepting imperfection transforms many important mathematical and computational problems from being unsolvable in the lifetime of the universe to being solvable now on current, actual computers—but the solutions still require deep thought and hard work.

Step 3. Get Up and Act on Your Best Approximation

It is not enough just to find our approximate answer to the problems. We must also act on that approximate, imperfect answer. This is hard because we know our answer is not perfect. That might scare you. It often scares me. But we cannot let our fear of imperfection, our fear of making a mistake, prevent us from acting on our best approximation.
As Paul told Timothy, “God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” (2 Tim 1:7)

Don’t Bury Your Talent
The Lord doesn’t care about not messing up—not losing what we have. It isn’t enough to preserve what He has given us. He wants us to get up and do something with it.

Fear Causes Failure
The real key is learning to trust that a little water splashing in your face does not mean you are drowning. It may not be what we imagine to be perfect floating, but it is good enough. Even going completely below the water is not failure—if you remain relaxed, a gentle hand motion quickly brings you back up to the top. But as soon as you become nervous, you try to sit up, and you will sink.
The Plan of Salvation
Recall that Satan’s plan was to guarantee that bad things would not happen, that we would all be safe, and that we would all return to our Father after our time on earth. This plan was rejected not only because Satan wanted all the glory for himself but also, more importantly, because it would not work. It just wouldn’t work.
Aim High
when I say “aim high,” I mean we must aim to develop our talents and use our opportunities the best we can to build His kingdom, bless His children, spread His gospel, care for the needy, heal the sick, discover truth, teach that truth, and bring ourselves and our families back to live with Him.

Step 4. Do It Again

Some of the most powerful methods for solving hard mathematical problems are what we call iterative methods. You start with an approximate answer—sometimes just a random guess—but you use that guess to generate a new, slightly better answer. Then you take that new answer and apply the method again and again until you get as close as you need to the correct answer. There certainly are situations where these iterative methods don’t work, but in many settings they are both the fastest and most robust ways to solve problems.


From Leonard Cohen's song “Anthem”:
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in. 
Our bells are cracked. But let us ring those bells that still can ring. Stop worrying about your failure to achieve perfection—perfection is not possible in this life. Instead, embrace the light and healing power of Christ that come in through our cracks and imperfections.

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