COMPLEXITY AND SIMPLICITY

Some explain things directly and in simple language. Some are experts in making simple things complex. PB Medawar made an interesting observation: Some fields are genuinely difficult, where if you want to communicate, you will have to work hard to make the language simple. Some other fields are fundamentally easy, where if you want to impress people, you have to make the language more difficult than it is needed to be. Medawar called this "Physics envy". It means some people want their subject to be “treated as profoundly difficult, even when it isn't”. One interpretation of physics envy is that we are not as simple (or complex) as we present ourselves to be. We like to construct and use simple models. We expect these models to 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?” This is a simple question, but it is, in reality, a grand unifying theory, a form of physics envy.

All complex systems are made up of simple parts, and everything is a complex manifestation of simple laws. It is also true that a system is more than the sum of its parts. 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 of us think that all problems are simple. If they appear complex, it is because of the lack of efforts to find solutions. Albert Einstein said, “Things should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”

Complexity evolves from simplicity. It is context-dependent; one’s behaviour could look simple when interacting on a one-to-one basis, but the same individual could behave very differently when in a crowd. The solution to simple problems requires simple logic. Its logical extension is that the solution to complex problems would require complex logic. But this is not always true. In many situations, complex problems may not require any logic. In many situations, the illogical seem logical. It is said, unless complex problems are waiting for the person, the person can’t remain simple. It also must be recognized, not every simple thing evolves into a complex thing. Few things become simpler and vanish from the scene; for example, a question doesn’t remain so after its answer is found.

We all seem to suffer from physics envy. A theory for everything is not possible but we all wait for such a theory to come into being. We have yet not resolved the question of “who created whom”, but our endeavour shall always be to find the answer. 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. But 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’ to make our lives simpler. “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” is how Leonardo da Vinci summed up the complexity of simplicity.