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  • Reverend James Squire

Rubik's Cube

I saw a very interesting article by Mark Kennedy about the inventor of the Rubik Cube a bit ago

on Friday, December 2, 2022 Inquirer. I never knew who had the idea to create that challenging puzzle. Erno Rubik who invented the cube is from Budapest who was a budding artist before he took up a career in architecture. He believed that problem solving is a something that all of us love to do.

The article indicated that there were 43 quintillion possible solutions to the Rubik’s Cube. What is interesting is that “practiced cube-solvers can complete the Rubik’s Cube in a matter of seconds, with the current world record holder solving the cube in 3.47 seconds.”

Two things are important about Mark Kenney’s article about the Rubik’s Cube. First, people love to solve problems and second, practice can help you solve problems in an expeditious fashion. How do I know that this is true and mirrors an important ingredient in thinking and in decision making?

When teaching ethics, I always made a point of demonstrating how what we were learning could benefit them in their private lives. I would phrase it as, “Here is what is going to help you to make a good decision when you are out on Friday night.” Every theory that we examined was followed by a direct connection to their lives even the controversial topics that we covered. We began each Monday morning class by me saying nothing and there commenting on how they used the ethical theories during the weekend without divulging any private issues such as the people affected. Some Mondays there was nothing to report. However, during the section on gender issues and how males and females value communication differently, they were nodding in agreement from their own experience. When there is a problem that a couple were arguing about, they noticed that their girlfriends wanted to talk all about it whereas the boyfriends just wanted to solve it and move on with closure. I felt like “Dear Abby!” in a good many classes.

I also learned why some kids don’t like school. They don’t like just receiving information. They love solving problems. That is their context for joy in learning! This realization helped me to understand during a recent visit from Vicki’s sorority sisters that they loved putting one of those 1000 pieces puzzles together. It is a form of problem solving. Everyone who was doing the puzzle are people who solved big time problems in their chosen vocations. I thought that exercise was a waste of time until I realized that insight. Of course, I never verbalized the “waste of time” or I would be banned from the room. So, you puzzle people, keep that in mind! “Words With Friends” and its variations does the same thing.

But there is more. Notice that the World Record Holder in solving the Rubik’s Cube practiced solving that puzzle.

One of the units that I taught in ethics was “lateral thinking.” Lateral thinking is sometimes referred to as “thinking outside the box.” It is ironic that when students finish their education and enter the work world, that employers more and more are looking for lateral thinking problem solvers and not linear problem solvers which dominates our mode of education. Certain tech firms give their employees Friday afternoon “on” not “off” just to see if they can solve a problem that they have encountered or come up with a new problem. The problems are just as important as the solutions.

When I was looking for a resource to have my ethics students learn and practice lateral thinking skills, I discovered that Penn was teaching this useful tool in a class so I discovered that they used a textbook call Pumping Ions: Games and Exercises to Flex Your Mind by Tom Wujec. For those of you who are interested, the book is on Amazon in paperback for $18.

Some examples from the book that caught the students’ interest are:

“Restate the problem in a way that is easier for you to approach.”

“The first step to solving any problem is to figure out what you need to figure out.”

“A man kisses his wife before he leaves for work. He shuts the apartment door, walks into the elevator, presses the ground floor button and realizes instantly that his wife has died. What happened?” Sometimes a problem requires you to visualize it and create stories of possibilities.

You can go online and google lateral thinking theory and problems, and you will have more information than you will ever need. I preferred having the students bring the problems to class.

I also had the students solve lateral thinking problems as individuals and groups. They readily saw how teams working together has been the way that most problem-solving businesses function.

I had a talented member of our faculty who was a problem solver in the army. We took the students outside, and he had them solve some of the traditional problems that he used in teaching others to do lateral thinking. Imagine a river in front of you. How are you going to cross it with these limited items. They are all that you have. That kind of exercise only works with teams.

To drive home a point, all of my students were on teams. Think about playing the opposition when you only have one play that you use. I think about my example regarding a football team. You will lose! Multiple strategies will win the day!

You should be able to walk around problems and see it from different perspectives. That’s what ethics is all about. And it’s plain fun!!!!!!!!!

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