The Universe of Discourse

Mon, 15 Apr 2024

Try it and see

I thought about this because of yesterday's article about the person who needed to count the 3-colorings of an icosahedron, but didn't try constructing any to see what they were like.

Around 2015 Katara, then age 11, saw me writing up my long series of articles about the Cosmic Call message and asked me to explain what the mysterious symbols meant. (It's intended to be a message that space aliens can figure out even though they haven't met us.)

This is a
127-by-127 pixel image whose purpose is to wordlessly present and
define a series of 5-by-7 pixel glyphs that represent the digits from
0 through 9, and also a glyph representing an equal sign.

I said “I bet you could figure it out if you tried.” She didn't believe me and she didn't want to try. It seemed insurmountable.

“Okay,” I said, handing her a printed copy of page 1. “Sit on the chaise there and just look at it for five minutes without talking or asking any questions, while I work on this. Then I promise I'll explain everything.”

She figured it out in way less than five minutes. She was thrilled to discover that she could do it.

I think she learned something important that day: A person can accomplish a lot with a few minutes of uninterrupted silent thinking, perhaps more than they imagine, and certainly a lot more than if they don't try.

I think there's a passage somewhere in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance about how, when you don't know what to do next, you should just sit with your mouth shut for a couple of minutes and see if any ideas come nibbling. Sometimes they don't. But if there are any swimming around, you won't catch them unless you're waiting for them.

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