Rubik’s cube is analogous to economics

If a red square on Rubik’s cube represented iron, the yellow squares sulphur, and so on, then the organisation of stickers on Rubik’s cube would represent a particular arrangement of material. Since economics is the study of resource re-arrangement, it would seem that both puzzles, i.e. planetary economics and Rubik’s Cube, have something in common. Consequently, can solving the simpler cubic puzzle teach us about solving the planetary one?

Supposing that one doesn’t modify the labels, then Rubik’s cube has some physical similarities with the Earth; i.e. energy is required to move stuff about in both cases whether the stuff in question is mass or little square stickers.  Furthermore, in both systems, two bits of stuff cannot occupy the same space and the overall quantity and type of stuff is conserved.

One could randomly rearrange Rubik’s cube resulting, by chance, with each face as a single colour. But this is not a solution. I posit that you have solved Rubik’s cube when you can pick it up in a random state, and rearrange it to any desired pattern, which raises some questions!

What is the desired pattern? The value of one arrangement over another is entirely subjective. Who are we to tell our children how they should arrange their material? Their needs may be different to ours. That said, are there some ever rigid global rules of sustainability? What are the physical degrees of freedom within which we may modify our planet with impunity?

How do we get there? Two problems arise that I dub naivety and selfishness.  Naivety occurs when we have a nice looking local solution which is not part of the global pattern – like putting two squares of the same colour together on one face, but not matching the remaining sides of each cubelet.  Selfishness occurs when part of the global pattern has been solved, but we are not willing to mess it up to fix another part.

Thus the humble Rubik’s cube can give us some important insights into what the principal challenges of sustainability may be.  What do you think? Did I miss anything?


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