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John Tenniel [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Problem-solving inspired by Alice’s rabbit hole

It’s that tingling, numbing sensation in the fingers, closely followed by the perennial fight to keep your eyes open. Focus, focus!

The room, intermittently, visited by others, displays debris of human consumption — the type you get when you’ve got to wrap up a project in 48 hours. No one’s going home.

Memories like this don’t leave you; all part of the lifestyle in problem solving — rabbit holes.

Question. What is it that a Cambridge Mathematician Charles Dodgson and Albert Einstein have in common that, amongst other things, is the bedrock for problem-solving? Both Dodgson whose nom de plume was Lewis Carroll and Einstein approached their feats assuming thought experiments akin to a child.


Carroll’s imaginative understanding of Alice’s world would yield a reality in which logic is tested, such as when the Red Queen utters ‘Sentence first, verdict later’. Down the rabbit hole, issues arise in startling fashion and problem-solving takes on an irrational slant.

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’
‘That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat.
‘I don’t much care where -’ said Alice.
‘Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’ said the Cat.
‘- so long as I get SOMEWHERE,’ Alice added as an explanation.
‘Oh, you’re sure to do that,’ said the Cat, ‘if you only walk long enough.”

Einstein, a civil servant in the patent office in Bern, Switzerland was 26-years old, when he reworked an idea he held since a child. What would it be like if he could travel alongside a beam of light and what would be the physical appearance of the beam?

The world in 1900 held onto a classical belief of Newton that space, time, and light were absolutes. Space was everywhere and homogenous, time flew in one direction and never changed whether you were on earth or a far off galaxy (Christopher Nolan would exploit in Interstellar). Light too was determinate, but what was its speed? That was calculated in the early nineteenth century at 186,000 miles/second.

Now, the way we see things is to absorb light bouncing of that we’re observing. So imagine travelling at 10mph looking back at a clock at 6.00 p.m. We’d see the seconds change as we move. But if we were to move at 186,000 mph looking at the clock, the light beam bouncing of the clock travelling alongside us would be carrying the message 6.00.p.m. Time would have literally stood still. Meanwhile our wrist watch would be ticking along.

Einstein’s childlike imagination proved that time depended on the position of an observer relative to our said clock. There’s more, but the point here is the child like innocence asking questions that as adults we ignore them.

I made this film, Through The Eyes of a Child, in 1993 when based in South Africa on the verge of their epochal elections. Complex questions were being asked by politicians. These children got to the heart of the matter. Listen carefully.

Through The Eyes of a Child -Producer/Director David Dunkley Gyimah, 1993

Alice’s rabbit hole, is a thought palace, an environment I have come to trust and feel. It differs to the structural encoding of the world above ground, which entertains conventional approaches to politics, economics and technology.

You’re familiar with it too. It’s when someone in the room asks a basic question, apologising before hand at the moment that everyone sniggers, and then the boss smacks the rest down with…‘that was a good question’.

The best journalists often ask the powerfully succinct: “why”. Watch from 4.06 onwards.

It’s the basic cognitive skill exclusive of any technology in which the participant looks to hear the voice of others than their own. Down the rabbit hole, is where you’ll find too what Russian filmmaker Tarkovsky calls a ‘poetic consciousness’.

The poet cannot be contained to predictability. She too approaches the world afresh with a rift that aims by default to surprise and in a way be memorable.

The trouble is we’re in a cycle at the moment when everyone wants to heard and when they do, it’s often not about solving problems, but the emotional wrench of self aggrandisement. I’m guilty here too for wanting to share this.

Surprisingly, when you sit down and evaluate many of the successes of our time e.g. Impressionism they involved simple, earnest approaches that played on uncomplicated questions and towards a playfulness — us as children. I often think how remiss it is that we forget this.

KICS — Keep it Childlike Simple

Written by

Top Writer & Creative Technologist, Int. Award Winner. Cinemajournalist. Cardiff Uni @jomec. PhD (Dublin). Visiting Prof UBC, Ex BBC/C4News. Apple profiled.

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