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A heuristic is a technique, process or method for finding a solution to a given problem, or finding an explanation for a given set of circumstances. Typical heuristics are "trial and error", "educated guesses" and "rules of thumb". In science the heuristic known as Occam's razor is often employed to interpret the merit of hypotheses.
The word derives from the Latin heuristicus which is derived from the Ancient Greek "Εὑρίσκω", meaning "to find" or "to discover". Despite the fancy origins, the word itself was only coined in the mid-19th century. However heuristics themselves have been around for a very long time, probably since the emergence of the capacity for abstract thought. The ability to use heuristics is one of the (many) defining features of sentience.
Heuristics are techniques which have been shown experientially to be superior to non-heuristic techniques (such as random guessing or considering every possibility). However it is important to note that employing a heuristic is no guarantee of success for solving a problem or finding the truth of a situation.