WE ARE NOT AS SIMPLE (OR COMPLEX) AS WE PRESENT OURSELVES TO BE  

Some people can explain things in direct and simple language. Some people are good at making simple things complex. P B Medawar made an interesting observation. He said, there are some fields that are genuinely difficult. In these fields, if you want to communicate, you will have to work really hard to make the language simple. There are also other fields that are fundamentally very easy, where if you want to impress people, you have to make the language more difficult than it needed to be. Medawar called this “Physics Envy”. What he meant was that there are people who want their subject to be treated as profoundly difficult, even when it isn’t. One of the interpretations of physics envy is that we are not as simple (or complex), as we present ourselves to be.

We like to construct as well as use simple models. We expect that the simple models should give us all the answers. But that is not possible. Take this question – How rich will we be when we have converted all our forests, all our soil, all our water resources, and all our minerals to cash? One might think this is a simple question, but it is really not. It is a form of physics envy. Albert Einstein said, things should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.

It is true that all complex systems are made up of simple parts and everything is a complex manifestation of simple laws. But it is also true that a system is more than the sum of its component parts. Physicist Murray Gell-Mann said, “The basic laws of physics are fundamental in the sense that all the other laws are built on them, but that doesn’t mean you can derive all the other laws from the laws of physics.”

Some people think that all problems are simple. If they appear complex, it is because of the lack of effort to find solutions. Complexity evolves from simplicity. It is context-dependent; one’s behaviour could look simple when interacting on a one-on-one basis, but the same individual could behave very differently when in a crowd. The solution of simple problems requires simple logic. Its logical extension is that the solution of complex problems would require complex logic. But this is not always true. In many situations, complex problems may not require any logic. In such situations, the illogical seems logical.

Not every simple thing evolves into a complex thing. A few things become simpler and vanish from the scene; for example, a question doesn’t remain a question, soon after its answer is found. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said, “Everything is simpler than you think and at the same time more complex than you imagine.” The simple fact of life is simplicity. As one simplifies life, the laws of the universe become simpler. The difficult part is to lead a simple life. We know what our needless wants are. What we don’t know or want to know is to remove the ‘unwanted’ from the list  to make our lives simpler. “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” is how Leonardo da Vinci summed up the complexity of simplicity.

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