Transcriber: Rhonda Jacobs Reviewer: Ellen Maloney

We have incredible potential.

But how much do we really know

about what are the most effective ways for us to extract this potential?

To overcome obstacles? To reach our goals?

To change as we need to change along the way?

To learn? To evolve?

I'm a professor of computer science,

and my area of research is quantum computation.

No, it's not computers that don't exist yet.

But imagine computers that will take one second

to solve certain computational tasks

that the fastest supercomputer in the world

will take zillions of years to solve.

Thousands of researchers

all over the world are now trying to build those computers,

and also trying to understand what you will be able to do with them

if and when we manage to build them.

I deal with difficult challenges on a daily basis.

I'm really interested in trying to find ways

to overcome obstacles, and learning, which are more effective.

Now, during my career I've had ups and downs.

I was fortunate enough to have a very, very successful PhD.

But immediately after my PhD, I went into this numb period

in which nothing seemed to actually work,

even though I was putting a lot of effort into it.

My friend came to me and told me

"Dorit, you've painted a very beautiful picture in your PhD.

But you're putting in too much effort.

Maybe it's time to let go, sign it up, and move on to the next picture."

And he was right; I was clinging to it with all my might.

I was applying a lot of force.

That's one way of applying force.

But we do that all the time in many, many different contexts

and many variations.

Imagine yourself opening a drawer.

You try to open it.

It doesn't open.

It's stuck.

What do you do?

You try harder.

And if it doesn't work, you try even harder.

It might even break.

You tell yourself you have to finish an exercise,

so you force yourself to do it.

You want to go on a diet, you force yourself to do it.

You need to finish this book

that's been lying near your bed for a month,

you force yourself to do it.

I'm not saying that as a criticism, it's just an observation.

We see this all around us, it's something very natural for us to do,

and that's what we've probably been told to do

many times when we were very young.

But we lose a lot from this forceful approach.

We lose a lot in quality.

We lose our sensitivity, our creativity.

Imagine a kid who hates mathematics

and is forced to do a mathematical exercise.

It's not a very pretty sight to see, right?

It's not inspiring.

It's as if some other part of his brain has taken over him,

and it's doing the job but it's doing it very, very poorly.

But there's a different kind of thinking and learning

which is much more connected to ourselves, and much more attentive,

and of a much higher quality -

something which is much more connected, much more attentive;

it's more sensitive and more creative.

I want to give you an experience of such a learning and thinking process

which is not forced.

I'm holding a glass of water here in front of you,

and I'm going to rotate this glass around itself

without spilling the water, and without detaching my hand from the glass.

Here, watch me do it.

Good, worked the first time.

Now I have a question for you.

How many times did the glass rotate around itself?

I'll let you watch me do it again.

Watch carefully.

Okay.

It doesn't matter; the answer doesn't matter.

The point is that my question - if you're curious and intrigued by the movement -

my question triggered some spontaneous thinking process inside you

that was unforced.

It was something connected to your curiosity

and something that came from within.

The answer, by the way, is two.

I'm looking for ways to maintain those kind of qualities -

sensitivity, creativity - those connections within us,

not only with such simple exercises,

but also in front of the hardest obstacles that we want to overcome.

For that matter, let me move on to my other passion.

I've done body-mind methods for years.

I practice tai chi, king fu, yoga, Feldenkrais.

One day, my kung fu teacher came to me - it was while I was doing this kick -

and he told me,

"Dorit, pay attention to how you return your leg back from the kick."

Now, actually, I never even knew I'm returning my leg back from the kick.

It always seemed to me like my kick ended with my leg up in the air,

and the rest didn't exist.

And then it occurred to me, it's exactly how I operate in life.

I throw myself into challenges,

and then I don't care about how I come back from them.

What we do with our physical body, our physical patterns,

are actually intimately connected to how we interact with life in general.

I want to give you four principles I've extracted from body-mind methods.

And those principles, I think, are very useful for overcoming obstacles

and learning in general

while maintaining your sensitivity, and creativity, and capabilities,

even in front of very difficult obstacles.

Now, those principles don't only apply to physical movement,

I think they apply to overcoming challenges in general.

In fact, they also apply to my scientific research

and for learning mathematics.

I'm going to give you an example coming from a Feldenkrais lesson

and extract the principles from it one by one.

I'm just taking Feldenkrais as an example;

I could have taken other body-mind methods as well,

but this is a particularly illuminating example.

You see here my Feldenkrais teacher, Eilat Almagor,

and she's giving a lesson to a child called Yuval.

Yuval came to the lesson with some kind of asymmetry in the way he's sitting.

He finds it difficult to lean on his left sitting bone.

He leans on his right sitting bone.

That means that he can't take his right leg to the right, like that, while sitting

because he can't lift his right sitting bone.

By the end of the lesson, however,

Yuval actually brings his right leg to the right on his own.

I want to give you the key steps of what's going on in the lesson,

and walk you through those key steps,

and extract the principles one by one.

(Video) Dorit Aharonov: Eilat starts

by working with Yuval's right sitting bone.

Now this might seem counterintuitive

because Yuval already knows how to lean on his right sitting bone.

(On stage) DA: You might think that this means

that he will actually move further to the right.

And indeed, a little bit later, he does move further to the right.

First principle:

Start within your comfort zone, and make it even more comfortable.

The next thing that Eilat does,

is now that Yuval is very comfortable with where he is,

she inserts one little new ingredient into his scenario.

She just lets him feel that he can be supported in his left sitting bone.

But this is done within his comfort zone.

She just picks one little thing to add to it.

Pick a challenge which is interesting, within your reach,

not too easy, not too hard.

The next thing that Eilat does might look a bit weird.

She lifts Yuval up in the air and lets him fall,

and she does it from various directions.

Now what she actually does,

is she takes him away from what he has just learned,

to lean on both his sitting bones,

and lets him know that he can return back to what he just learned

from different directions.

Third principle:

Move away from your desired goal,

and come back to it from different directions.

Now, you might have noticed that during the whole time,

Yuval continues to play, and do various things, and move.

It's all happening within his comfort zone.

He integrates everything that he's learning into his own life.

Fourth and last principle:

Play with it, connect it to everything you know,

make it your own.

A little bit later, Yuval takes his leg to the right on his own.

The movement has already become his own.

I want to repeat those four principles.

Start within your comfort zone and make it even more comfortable.

Second principle:

Not too easy, not too hard:

Pick an interesting challenge within your reach.

Third principle:

Move away from your desired goal, and come back to it from different angles.

Fourth principle:

Play with it, connect it, make it your own.

Okay, now these principles, they're effective, as you've seen,

in the context of movement.

But I find them to be very, very effective also in other contexts.

And in particular, in my scientific research,

and in the context of mathematics in general.

Now, I want to give you an example

of how to use those principles in the context of mathematics,

in the context of a small riddle.

Once upon a time, there was a queen.

The queen ruled her island because she was the only one on the island

who knew how to do the following trick.

She had two cubes; each cube had six faces,

and on each face, there is a digit written.

Now, what she knew how to do with those cubes

is she knew how to represent all dates in the month with those cubes.

Now, this is a bit confusing because there are only six faces on each cube,

and there are ten digits to write on them,

so how did she do that?

I want to solve this riddle with you using the principles that I've just shown,

and I'll have this place here at the top corner of the screen

where the principle that we're now using will be written.

So that you can keep track of it.

We start with what we need to do.

We need to write six digits on each cube so I make space for those digits,

six for each cube.

Now let's start with a very, very small step.

Let's just write the first date - 01.

So we need a 0 on the first cube, and we need a 1 on the second cube

so we do that.

Well that was easy enough, so let's continue this way.

We can also write 02, 03, 04, 05.

Okay, but we can't continue like that for all dates that start with 0,

there's just not enough room in the right cube.

So now we see that we can identify a simple goal

that is still something interesting that we don't know how to do.

Let's try to represent all the dates that start with 0 -

the left-most column.

We see that we can't just do that with just one 0 on one cube,

but if we add one 0 on the right cube,

then you can combine it with all the digits

by putting all the other digits on the left cube.

So now we are done with the left column.

But we can take this idea of having 0 on both cubes to the next column.

We can solve now for the next column

which consists of all numbers that start with 1,

by just putting 1 on both cubes.

We can do that because we have more room, we add a 1 to the left cube,

and now we have 1 on both cubes

and we can do all combinations with all the other digits.

So that's fine for the second column.

Now we want to do the third column.

So if we can put 2 on both cubes, that would be great,

but we don't have more room.

So now what do we do?

Well, we use the next principle, and we make a deliberate mistake.

We move away from our target and we add 2, even though we don't have room for that.

Maybe we can correct for it later.

Okay, so now we have 2 on the left cube,

and you can check that you can now write all the 20s,

and you can also see that you can write 30 and 31.

Great, but now we have seven digits on the left cube.

So how do we correct for that?

I need all the digits on the left cube, so what do I do?

Now I want to use the fourth principle: I want to play with it.

So let's get serious with playing.

I brought here with me two colorful cubes from that island,

and I want to play with them.

I'm going to play with them, and I can write here -

they're going to break, actually -

okay, I have a 2 here; I can write 20-something.

Let's see.

I can write 21.

I can write 27.

I can write 26.

29!

Right, I can also write 29.

Aha, you've got it already.

I don't need the 6 and 9.

And that's the solution.

Now, you might be thinking,

"Hmm, is this all it takes to be a quantum computer scientist?

Just rotate colorful cubes

and lift your right and left sitting bone once in a while,

and follow your butt once in a while?"

Well, the answer is...

honestly, yes.

Now seriously, I strongly believe

that all scientific discoveries, great or small,

can be boiled down to a very small, little step

of maybe a twist or a rotation around what you thought before,

or looking at things from a different angle,

or making an unexpected connection.

And playing with it will reveal those things.

And this is exactly what we're doing now in the area of quantum computation.

In this area, we are actually at the state of Yuval in the beginning of the lesson.

We don't know yet how to build those computers.

And we don't know yet what we will be able to do with them,

if and when they're built.

But what we're doing is, we start within our comfort zone,

we look around to see where we can expand it,

where we can find challenges

within our reach that are still interesting,

and once we find them and manage to get them,

we try to understand it further,

we try to go back and forth in order for it to be reliable.

We try to fall on it from different directions,

and we keep continuing to play.

And that is something that has already been very useful,

even without reaching our goals, our big goals,

we already found very, very interesting things

and many new areas have been opened, and many new connections,

just by this approach.

Do you have a goal in your life that you haven't managed to move

or make progress on for a long time?

I invite you to check - maybe...

maybe...

you're putting just too much energy

in a direction that you expect things to move.

And maybe by reducing the amount of force and letting it move in other directions,

you might find yourself in a different place

which could be very close to where you are now,

but it will be a different place from which things will look different.

I find that resisting the temptation of using the forceful approach

is a lifelong process of awareness,

but I think it's worthwhile

because you gain your sensitivity, your creativity, your liveliness,

in front of difficult obstacles.

And even if you don't reach what you wanted,

well, you reach other places which could be as interesting.

Thank you for listening.

(Applause)

(Whistles)

(Cheers)