Georg von Békésy on Scientific Problems

Problems arise in a variety of ways, and it is often worthwhile to list the forms that they may take. Thus we can distinguish the following:
  1. The classical problem, which has had much effort expended upon it, but without any acceptable solution.
  2. The premature problem, which often is poorly formulated, or is not susceptible to attack.
  3. The strategic problem, which seeks data on which a choice may be made between two or more basic assumptions or principles.
  4. The stimulating problem, which may lead to a reexamination of accepted principles and may open up new areas for exploration.
  5. The statistical questions, which may be only a survey of possibilities.
  6. The unimportant problem, which is easy to formulate and easy to solve.
  7. The embarrassing question, commonly arising at meetings in the discussion of a paper, and rarely serving any useful purpose.
  8. The pseudo problem, usually the consequence of different definitions or methods of approach. Another form of pseudo problem is a statement made in the form of a question. It also is often the result of discussions in meetings.

It is frequently helpful to attempt to place a given problem in this array of possibilities, for such a classification may provide a hint as to the problem's significance, the difficulties involved in its attack, and the sort of solution that may be expected.