Interplay of Sustainable Development Goals through Rubik Cube Variations


Anthony Judge | Laetus in Praesens – TRANSCEND Media Service

Engaging Otherwise with What People Find Meaningful


In a period of global crises a frame of reference is offered by the 17 Sustainable Development Goals articulated by the United Nations, superceding the earlier formulation of the 8 Millennium Development Goals. The new set of goals, as with the earlier set, is variously held to be beyond useful criticism — being effectively “set in stone”, as with the Babylonian Code of Hammurabi. Any reference as to the reasons by which the previous set has faded into history is carefully avoided — irrespective of whether this might guide reflection on the possible early fate of the new set.

The concern here follows from the conclusion of an earlier argument (Refining the Value of Sustainable Development Goals: in quest of the systemic coherence of global attractors, 2017). The conclusion there focused on the possibility of organizing the 17 SDGs in terms of mathematical “magic squares“, with all these imply in terms of pattern resolution (Unexplored cognitive implications of 17 Sustainable Development Goals — through “magic squares”? 2017).

The argument there is that collective global choice of a disparate set 17 value-goals must necessarily be taken seriously. As noted by Wikipedia, the number 17 has wide significance in pure mathematics, as well as in applied sciences, law, music, religion, sports, and other cultural phenomena. It is potentially valuable to note the appreciation of 17 in mathematics, especially in the light of the insights offered by (George Lakoff and Rafael Nuñez, Where Mathematics Comes From: how the embodied mind brings mathematics into being, 2001). Other than as a fantasy of ball-game enthusiasts (as noted there), why does 17 “work”? Missing is any insight into how the collective decision-making process elicited 17, or why the number was perceived by some to constitute a coherent set.

The earlier argument made particular reference to Rubik’s Cube, its more complex variants, and their implementation in virtual reality applications as a means of bypassing technical and other constraints of physical construction and distribution. It is appropriate to recognize the considerable development of the cube user community worldwide. The focus of the World Cube Association (WCA) is on speedcubing and the regulation of speedsolving competitions for Rubik’s Cube and similar puzzles.

The value of using such cubes for personal cognitive development and the enhancement of thinking capacity has been specifically articulated and studied (What are the benefits to solving Rubik’s Cubes? Quora, 2015). Whilst appreciating that puzzle-solving focus, the concern here is with how use of such devices might be adapted to enhance pattern recognition of relevance to enabling sustainable governance.

Beyond the technicalities of such adaptation, of particular interest is the obvious appeal of such a device over decades, readily defined as “magical” — whatever that may mean (William Lee Adams, Puzzling Success, Time, 28 January 2009; Ariel Sabar, Behind the Unceasing Allure of the Rubik’s Cube, Smithsonian Magazine, July 2014). It is in relation to that magical appeal that the case is made here for the relevance of the extensive insights into “magic squares”.

Potentially relevant to sustainable development is the familiarity of users with the skills and insights into the variety of “algorithms” by which a cube may be solved through a sequence of operations: left-right, up-down, front-back (see example: Algorithms to Solve Rubik’s Cube). Given the metaphorical use of those terms in the politics of strategic development, this offers a new way of thinking about analogous operations in psychosocial systems for the resolution of challenges of global governance.

What might be the algorithms of sustainable development? Through the metaphors, could these be inspired by Wikipedia‘s summary of Optimal solutions for Rubik’s Cube? However it is not just the challenge of comprehending those algorithms, as helpfully articulated by Tomas Zaremba (The Easiest Way to Memorize the Algorithms of Rubik’s Cube, Instructables, 2017). Rather it is the cognitive challenge of understanding the implications in psychosocial systems which is the concern here, following from the argument of Douglas Hofstadter and Emmanuel Sander (Surfaces and Essences: analogy as the fuel and fire of thinking, 2013).

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