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Friday, October 02, 2015

Complexity

Portrait of Giovanni Pico della Mirandola
from Wikipedia.org
Recently, I have found myself repeatedly referencing an idea. The idea is our desire to find simple solutions to complex problems. There is so much going on in the world today. If everything that is going on in the world today could fit in a box of matches, you could put everything going on in the world 200 years ago in that same box of matches...without taking out the matches.

The world is full of issues to be tackled. Many of these issues are interrelated. Having a war has economic implications. Changing social values have political and economic implications. Whether it’s religion, science, technology, business, environment, social, medical, political, or economic, issues interact. That would add enough complexity by itself, but each of these areas has grown in complexity. There are many issues within each and each issue is more complex.

It boggles the mind. In 1486, an Italian philosopher by the name of Giovanni Pico della Mirandola held a public event in which he attempted to defend his knowledge of everything. The thought that anyone could know everything there is to know today is utterly absurd. Even knowing the existence of all there is to know is absurd.

Yet, as members of a democratic society, we are expected to weigh in on issues. We’re expected to support candidates that will represent us. We know almost nothing about the issues, nothing about their effects on other issues, and almost nothing about what the candidates know about issues and their interactivity. Does your brain hurt? Mine does. Writing this post isn’t helping either.

We need to at least think about this stuff. The first step towards making better choices is acknowledging our immense ignorance. Knowing that you don’t know leads you to ask better questions and make fewer assumptions based on what little you do know. Just acknowledging that our issues are complex causes us to dismiss oversimplified solution proposals.

Of course, complex solutions are a lot of work. They require a lot of work to design and a lot of work to explain to others. The others who are getting the explanation need to commit the effort to understand. It sounds tedious and boring and not how most of us want to spend their time. I do, but any who knows me will tell you that I’m not normal.

So, we accept the oversimplified proposals that come our way because they are easy to understand and require little effort to accept as the truth. They are bullshit! Accept them if you want, but just know that they won’t work. It’s just too complicated. Most of the really simple solutions require destruction on a massive scale, which may be why war is still so common. It’s the easy way out...sorta.

Do yourself a favor. Pick one of your favorite issues and spend 2 - 3 hours on the Internet reading different articles and academic research about it. I can guarantee that you will end up feeling like you know less about the issue than when you started. Only then will you truly understand what I’m trying to say here. It may not make any difference in the grand scheme of things, but as Pico, the Italian philosopher thought, it’s worth a try.
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