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I can tell you what he's doing with the pens because I saw him do this myself.  Gerard O'Neill liked to illustrate our tendency to constrain our thinking with a little puzzle:

Gerard K. O'Neill illustrating the six toothpicks puzzleA person is presented with six toothpicks, and told to make four equalateral triangles out of them.  Most people will push the toothpicks around on the table top for a short while, and then say it cannot be done.  The solution is to make one triangle on the table top, and then hold the other three toothpicks above to create a tetrahedron.  The realization then dawns that without even being told to, one has constrained one's thinking to the two-dimensional surface of the table top when the solution lies in the third dimension.

So it goes with much of the "conventional wisdom" about our future in space.  When we think about settlements beyond the Earth we often, without even realizing it, constrain our thinking to the surfaces of other planets and moons.  But maybe the best solution lies in the third dimension...


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