17/04/20, Kris Margett

There's No Mystery At All

Some things are seen as notoriously difficult; the English language, the plot of Inception (2010), eating just one Jaffa cake, etc. but when you learn the basic rules of how things work, they lose their mystery. Assuming you can read this, you’ve grasped the first one. If you can understand the concept of a dream, within a dream, within another dream, you’ve understood the second one, and, well, who wants just one Jaffa cake?

The Rubik’s cube, another example, has a strange place in popular culture, where it sits on maybe the highest pedestal, and is something only the neurologically-elite can decode. For years we’ve seen them on films & TV-shows, watched as these wizards would twist & turn the layers and in no time at all present a fully completed cube, much to the amazement of those around. A symbol of intelligence. 

There are over 43,252,003,274,489,855,000 (c.43 quintillion) different combinations that the Rubik’s cube can be set in, it sounds astronomically difficult if you wanted to solve it… In reality, a set of very simple algorithms can complete the cube in the time it takes to brew a cup of tea. I know this because up until this year I assumed I could never solve it, so I bought one, and headed over to YouTube.

37 years of mystery and under a week of intermittent attempts & online tutorials had my solve-time down from 5 days, to 2 and a half minutes. Each layer of the cube needs its own algorithm, and once you know them, it works for every single one of the 43 quintillion combinations.

No longer on a pedestal.

No longer a mystery.

Once you peek behind the curtain, you can’t help but be less impressed by the ‘show’. Mark Twain wrote, in Two Ways of Seeing a River, "Now when I had mastered the language of this water and had come to know every trifling feature that bordered the great [Mississippi] river as familiarly as I knew the letters of the alphabet, I had made a valuable acquisition. But I had lost something, too. I had lost something which could never be restored to me while I lived. All the grace, the beauty, the poetry had gone out of the majestic river!”.

So there comes a choice that you need to make, would you rather have the secret of the magician or have the wonder of the crowd. If it’s the former, you need to ask yourself, “do I want to know how x works”, “am I willing to learn”, “am I willing to carry on learning” and “am I willing to put this learning into practice to get better”.

Like the Rubik’s cube, most skills, tasks, or actions can be condensed into very simple and repeatable rules and techniques. Even the most complicated of subjects can be boiled down if you’re willing to take the time on learning from scratch. Nobel Prize winning physicist Richard Feynman said that “There is such a lot in the world. There is so much distance between the fundamental rules and the final phenomena that it is almost unbelievable that the final variety of phenomena can come from such a steady operation of such simple rules.” If you start at the beginning, which few people want to do, you can figure out just about anything.

The key to all this is time. If you’re willing to put the time in, to learn all the rules, the game is easier to understand. And if you’re willing to practice and work on those rules, you can enter any field, or pursue any idea, that you want. If you want to learn something as fundamentally useless as how to solve a Rubik’s cube, or learn how to draw, learn a foreign language, learn how to code apps, it’s all available to you, online. Mostly for free.

If you learn because you want to, rather than have to, it’s much easier to make a start.

I learned the Rubik’s cube. Now it’s your turn.

Share this on