30 November, 2010

Simplicity and complexity

The greatest thinkers are able to grasp ideas of serious complexity and yet explain them in a relatively simple manner. I've always been in awe of these people and admired their brain power and presentation skills. Today, however, I was seriously bored at a lecture, arguing that "it's so simple, I keep falling asleep!" But later I thought, how could I know if it truly was a simple thing that was being taught? What if it was instead a highly complex issue, and now because my lack of concentration I will not grasp it?

Should be striving for simplicity or complexity? Too simple things are usually a bit boring, but once you get them they're easy to remember. Too complex ideas, however, are hard to get. Surprisingly, even they can be quite easy to remember once you just need them often enough. But if you don't, well... For example, I can't really remember very much about a lot of math stuff I've had the pleasure of doing before.
“For every complex problem, there is a solution that is simple, neat, and wrong.”
- Henry Louis Mencken
Mencken, as a satirist, was quite rightly referring to the complexity of human life and society. Nevertheless, it serves as a nice remark for researchers and thinkers as well. No matter how much you like Occam's razor, sometimes simple might just be too simple. Simplifying and generalizing too much will lead to conclusions being non-descriptive and self-evident. By not categorizing and just generalizing, you'll do away with all the distinctive argumentative power. Having said that, I'd never advocate for the kind of this-stuff-is-nonsense-so-I'll-just-make-up-bucketloads-of-concepts-and-hope-nobody-notices research. Concepts are important, but trying to confound deliberately, that's just intellectual fraud. 

In the end, I guess the same approach we use with business works with explanations too. If it's too cheap, I mean simple, it just might be too good to be true. If it's too expensive, screw it - you can do better if you look beyond the first marketplace.

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