Saturday, 24 November 2012

As it always will be

Suppose you are thinking about something complex. Much of what we care about is complex, so it’s one of those things we ought to do well because we get lots of practice...

Well? We do get lots of practice and practice makes perfect doesn't it?


The trouble with those precious complexities such as social trends, human relationships and so many, many more, is the way we have to choose an aspect first. To think about. To discuss. To ponder. To pretend we've resolved.

Almost always, or maybe always, we have to consider a limited aspect of a complex subject rather than the whole thing. If we consider the whole thing we are deluding ourselves. Either that  or we've taken up politics or climate science.

So let’s stick to aspects.

Now it seems to me that because aspects of a complex subject are just aspects, they are best considered as neither true nor false, but something in between. Contributions perhaps - useful or not useful as the case may be. Actually of course, they can be false contributions, but even false contributions tell us something. At the very least they tell us something about the contributor.

Aspects worth considering are surely those which clarify. Sometimes that can be as simple as a more useful word or phrase. But whatever we do, we can't consider all aspects at the same time, in one discussion or a single piece of writing or even a single book. Or even a library of books for that matter. Something is always left out or not given enough consideration or the wrong emphasis - because that's the nature of complexity.

So all aspects of a complex subject aren’t essential to all discussions. We examine a complex issue piecemeal - because we have to. Because we are not able to study, discuss or examine an infinite array of aspects.

Too often we listen to people or read what they say because the aspects they promote are designed for emotional effect – designed to simplify and persuade, to encompass a subject which to too complex to be encompassed by anyone. Especially if we are willing to make certain assumptions, if we put ourselves into a certain frame of mind, if we pretend the complexity is less formidable than it really is, if we look down on those who don't believe as we do.

Yet in reality these precious complexities are not merely complex but infinitely complex. They will be discussed and wrestled with by thinking people forever.

Not for a long time - forever.

To me that’s one of the key issues with complex subjects – acknowledging just how complex they are, how they would take forever to elucidate completely.

The issue of free will for example.

Intellectual modesty has its drawbacks though. Too often the day is carried by those who seek to persuade over those who are merely concerned to add another useful insight. So we are carried away by the enthusiasts, the persuasive, the charlatans and the outright liars.

Which will go on until the day we gain control of our emotions I suppose. On that day though, we will have ceased to be human. So it's a complex problem.

As it always will be.


Anonymous said...

Interesting. As you say there are an infinity of aspects - some important, some not and some we just don't know. A checklist might ensure we consider aspects in a consistent way and the old 'terms of reference' trick is a handy tool to make sure issues are definitely not looked at.....

A K Haart said...

Roger - sticking to terms of reference is handy if everyone is signed up and nothing important has been missed. It gets projects done.

James Higham said...

Sticky wicket getting onto free will, AKH - it requires tomes.

A K Haart said...

James - and tomes and more tomes.