Wednesday, February 24, 2016

What Rubik's Cube taught me about Human Nature

Everybody's seen one.
One of my sons has taken an interest in Rubik's cubes. Today I pointed him to a box in the basement where I have over the years collected not just Cubes, but similar geometric puzzles of every sort. For a number of years I was practically addicted to the things... twisty, sliding colorful puzzles of all sizes and shapes.

Right now, as I write this, he's in hog heaven, rummaging through that box.


When Rubik's Cube was released in the U.S. in 1980, I was still in high school.

I didn't buy my first Cube. It was given to me by my German teacher, Mrs. Nora Esterhazy. She showed me the thing and casually said, "This is rather clever. I think maybe you can solve it."

It took me two weeks to solve it the first time. And you should be aware that back then there were no books and no YouTube videos to walk you through a solution. It was hard. At first I was fairly frustrated, as I would work to make one face all the same color only to see that work undone as I started on another face. Finally I asked myself the obvious, "well, what does a solved Cube look like?" What followed was the revelation that a face was not complete unless the colors along the edges were solved as well. This led to the epiphany that I shouldn't attempt to solve six faces... I should solve three tiers. That understanding alone is 70% of solving the entire puzzle, in my estimation.


Of course, the Cube became immensely popular. You'd see them everywhere. And often I'd hear people claim that they solved some number of faces. Some of these were "mathematically improbable", to put it nicely. I strongly doubt any of them had completed more than one face, but I never pushed the matter. Desirous of being helpful, but not wanting to give away the solution and spoil their fun, I'd look at their work and point out that they hadn't actually solved any faces.

I thought this was kind. After all, three tiers is a lot easier to solve than six faces. Half the work is gone in a single puff of logic. I thought they'd appreciate knowing this truth.

They didn't.

They got mad.

Granted, there were some individuals who got the message and for whom the light went on. But more often than not, the recipients of my advice were immensely proud of the screwed-up, improperly completed single face that they had worked so hard on, and they were resentful that I had stolen that accomplishment from them... that I had marginalized their effort. Never mind that they hadn't actually accomplished what they thought they had. In their view they had, and I, Dave Leigh, took it away by merely presenting a rational point of view.


Some people don't want a rational point of view. They don't think strategically, about what will solve the entire problem, and how to get there. Rather, they look at one face at a time, with each "solution" screwing up a previous "solution", with very little understanding of why that's so.

But they are proud of their small victories that never lead to total success.

They are resentful when objective reality isn't as they imagine it to be, and they are content to reject that reality in favor of their own misguided, doomed conception of the same. And some of them will continue to reject it even when you show them the solution.

The Cube is just a puzzle. But then again, Life is filled with puzzles. And I learned 36 years ago that some people just aren't interested in real solutions.

Everything in this post is 100% historically accurate. No fables today. Or perhaps, more to the point... sometimes life itself is the fable.

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