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He said it: Fred Hoyle on randomly solving a Rubik cube

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Most people are familiar by now with the Rubik cube. Suppose a blindfold person were given a thoroughly scrambled Rubik cube. He makes one move of a cube face in each second. How long would it be before a solved cube were obtained? The answer is about a hundred times longer than the age of the Earth.

– astronomer Fred Hoyle, Evolution from Space, (the Omni Lecture), and Other Papers on the Origin of Life, Enslow Publishers, 1982

No wonder Hoyle entertained the idea that space aliens must have started life, which is doubtless more complex than a Rubik cube.

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10 Replies to “He said it: Fred Hoyle on randomly solving a Rubik cube

  1. 1
    mike1962 says:

    Let’s say we rearrange the dots on the cube so that the normal uniform-colors-on-each side solution is no longer possible at all. Then how long would it take for a blind-folded person to solve it?

  2. 2
    material.infantacy says:

    Don’t rule out the multiverse, Mike. All sorts of things become possible when deep time meets inexhaustible resources. After all, at infinity, x=log(x). You wouldn’t think it possible, but there it is. xp

    I’m actually surprised that the alien hypothesis is not given more credence by materialists. It’s so much more plausible than a necessity or happy accident scenario, which inevitably leads to absurd appeals to the multiverse. Of course, admitting that some features observed in living systems are best explained as a result of an intelligent cause will not be tolerated. Not that I favor aliens as an explanation, only that it’s clearly far more reasonable than unforesighted mechanisms as a cause for observed biology.

    It is configuration which begs an explanation, once everything else is taken for granted (time, space, matter, energy, physics, chemistry, etc). Mechanism is incapable of performing the configuration necessary to produce biological systems. It’s not that mechanism is not quite capable of the task, it’s that there is no reason to believe that it is so — not in the slightest.

    Right now it’s the “subjective nature of design inferences” arguments that tickle my funny bone. Somehow, taking note of function and suggesting that design is a possible or likely cause is unreasonable, while invoking unobservable, untestable, unrepeatable, implausible material scenarios is perfectly acceptable. If the inference to design, or the observation of function, is subjective, then so is the observation of matter an energy, and anything else which requires the cooperation of our perception — that is, everything.

    The best example of “what evolution can do” happens to be biological life. Unfortunately, it’s not so inspiring to see otherwise intelligent people appeal to the phenomenon they’re trying to explain as an explanation of that phenomenon. The trend right now is for adherents of materialism to label all of the clockwork functionality of self-replicating biological systems as “evolution,” and then submit “evolution” as the answer to the question, “What is responsible for the self-replicating system?”

    Meanwhile, academics across the internet fiddle with the notion of genetic algorithms, as a demonstration of what “evolution” can accomplish in as little as 100 lines of code.

  3. 3
    EndoplasmicMessenger says:

    Did he say “a hundred times longer than the age of the Earth” because, not quite accepting the big bang theory, he didn’t want to say “thirty times longer then the age of the universe”?


  4. 4
    snelldl says:

    Well, it would probably take me that long even if I weren’t blindfolded!

  5. 5
    bevets says:

    At all events, anyone with even a nodding acquaintance with the Rubik cube will concede the near-impossibility of a solution being obtained by a blind person moving the cube faces at random. Now imagine 10^50 blind persons each with a scrambled Rubik cube, and try to conceive of the chance of them all simultaneously arriving at the solved form. You then have the chance of arriving by random shuffling of just one of the many biopolymers on which life depends. The notion that not only the biopolymers but the operating programme of a living cell could be arrived at by chance in a primordial organic soup here on the Earth is evidently nonsense of a high order. ~ Fred Hoyle

  6. 6


    Good quote. It is actually worse than that, though. At least the blind people have some comprehension of what they are supposed to be doing, the task they are supposed to be performing, and so on. Further, they have a concrete physical object that stays intact. They don’t have to deal with dilute solutions, interfering cross reactions, breakdown of the partial biopolymer before the full biopolymer is built, all the other vagaries and hazards of nature, etc. The rubiks example significantly understates the problem.

    Maybe a 4×4 cube would be a bit closer to the right odds! πŸ™‚

    There are people who can solve the cube blindfolded. But they have to examine it for several minutes beforehand and have spent years learning all the various moves and practicing beforehand. Pretty cool. I’m sub 45-second on average, but don’t think I’d have the patience to get much faster or learn how to do it blindfolded. It would take a lot more learning and practice that I don’t think I could devote.

  7. 7
    tragic mishap says:

    How would this blind person verify that he had reached a solution? πŸ˜€

  8. 8
    Jon Garvey says:

    “How would this blind person verify that he had reached a solution?”

    Why, he would exhibit fitness and a reproductive advantage, silly.

  9. 9
    forests says:

    Wow this is a bit disappointing really to see that Hoyle has been abused yet again. It appears both the ID crowd and the Darwinian crowd have never understand Hoyles ideas.

    “No wonder Hoyle entertained the idea that space aliens must have started life” This is a total misunderstanding, Hoyle never entertained that space aliens started life, if you read his other books such as Intelligent Universe, it is made clear that he didn’t believe in aliens and he certainly didnt believe they started life anywhere.

    In his book “Cosmic life force” in some chapters he does come close to supporting some kind of directed pantheism, admitting that life has a purpose in the universe and that a natural force may be responsible, but fully natural not supernatural. Hoyle was a strict atheist and materialist and rejected anything supernatural or spiritual.

  10. 10
    forests says:

    “I’m actually surprised that the alien hypothesis is not given more credence by materialists.”

    Aliens is science fiction, not taken seriously in reality. Have you not heard of self-organization?

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