Philosophy Cafe - Cafe Philosophique Message Board › Your Last Word on SIMPLICITY
Here are some questions prompted by our discussion that might inspire you to do some careful thinking. Feel free to use your own, however. A paragraph is a good length, like an elevator pitch.
(Note how these questions are less win/lose than for other themes. I believe this was a result of starting with quotes rather than interrogatives.)
• A simple explanation is one your mother can understand, right? No offense to your mom: really anybody will do. Why? Is there a difference between being able to explain something and understanding it?
• Simple explanations seem to require leaving things out, at least initially. Describe how the "coverage" of an explanation should increase over time, as the student learns. How do we determine what needs to be explained first?
• We seek simplicity, but distrust it when we find it. Why? What is the compromise involved here?
• Some things seem to be distilled, or simplified, from an original state of complexity; others seem to be essentially simple, if unsayable as well. What is the relationship between these simplicities "on different sides of complexity"?
• Categories clearly have survival value (thus animals have them, even without language). Might they also be harmful? Can explanations be destructive? Of what?
• If our intent in acquiring knowledge is to gain power, is simple knowledge more or less powerful? If we learn for enjoyment, how does simplicity correlate with that? You might address trivia as an example.
• I notice that each of things given as examples of what seems complicated but is actually simple was something that the respondent had learned (at least to their satisfaction) as child, or even in the preceding minutes: riding a bike, the theory of evolution, apologizing, etc. Furthermore, these are the kinds of things one learns outside of school. Run with that.
• Clarify for us the essential differences and similarities among the many vices to simplicity's virtue: complexity, redundancy, vagueness, opacity, obfuscation, and perhaps subtlety. (Word lovers, this one's for you!)
• True to that segment's moral flavor, we identified the operation of intent: complexity has to be created by somebody. We know that sometimes we are purposely ambiguous for a good purpose, as in invitations, as in play. Sometimes we believe complexity is necessary for clarity. Something in all of this smacks of the Garden of Eden, doesn't it?
• Perhaps ambiguity is inherent in a topic or situation, caused by use of "common words to express uncommon things" or the brain's use of imagery to represent the world. In which case, maybe no one is to blame. But dammit, we still want to! How can we be saved from dialectic futility?
• Here's a start on a healing synthesis made during the meeting. There are two simplicities: one created, the other discovered. One defeats complexity (in the manner of knowledge), the other accepts things as they are. Can you elaborate this? Could you explain it to your mother?
• Why do we have such faith in simplicity? Is simplicity seductively safe, like the Moses' tablets or a comfortable routine? Or do we trust it merely because complexity is so taxing to our faculties that we fear cognitive overload?
• Philosophers certainly have a thing for simplicity. Descartes was sure that nothing could be more obvious that Cogito, ergo sum, but then Kant outdid him with a considerably more complex argument that "cannot be simplified." All this to answer questions that might never occur to some. What are we getting with this "trading up" in sophistication?
• A theory that emerged in the meeting was that it is those very things we don't understand that we devalue by calling simple, particularly if they are understood by others. Reconcile this with the positive valence we place on simplicity generally.
• Naming was mentioned as a way of bringing things "down to our level." Is that accomplished by the mere fact that the label is simpler than what it names (perhaps we should say "obscures")? Or does it have more to do with our internal motives?
• If simplicity is a means of imposing order on our surroundings, is that order imaginary or real? Does the expansion of knowledge depend upon it? What is the true nature of that dependence?
• Einstein asks a question, and if the answer is simple, he thinks God is answering. Could we not infer that Einstein thinks God is a simpleton?
• "E = em cee-squared," "42," "Be the light," "I like to watch." What was the question?!
• Occam's Razor is a metaphorical tool that strips away unnecessary entities from an explanation. As such, it is a weapon against vice (redundancy, waste). Is this a case of man trying to be more like God? Didn't we get punished for that already?
• Abstractions are either the tools man is endowed with to know the world, or the veil that makes the world unknowable. Perhaps we can think of the simpler ones as having received God's endorsement; maybe the simple ones need a celebrity because they are less effective.
• Is it all smoke and mirrors? Complexity consists of lots of lies designed to confuse. No, wait: simplicity is an illusion created by people talking faster than we can think. Hold on...now this is exactly what I'm talking about!
• "Give you the simple life?!" How much ya got?