Keep It Simple (?) Keep It Complex

–There’s less a gradient between “Keep it simple!” and “Keep it complex!” than a considerable overlap. “Keep it simple!” and “Keep it complex!” are both admonitions; both are more complicated than they first appear. “Keep it complex!” has one saving virtue, however: It readily accommodates, reflects and answers to the complications.

–First, keep it simple. To adapt points from an essay by the critic, Michael Wood:

  • When someone commends, “Keep it simple!,” you might respond by taking it more as sounding out what you think rather than affirming you don’t have to think further.
  • “Keep it simple!” is one of those instructions that seems to know us without having to know each of us. It becomes the demand to decide–Keep it simple!–without knowing if demand is decidable.
  • When “Keep it simple!” is responded to as “Keep it simple?,” it looks more like a speculation. At that point, it doesn’t even begin to approximate a closed argument.
  • There is also a sense in which we respond to “Keep it simple!” as if it were a parable about how to act. It makes seeking out exemplars irresistible, but exemplars are always easy for someone else to undermine.

–Of course, the very same reservations about “Keep it simple!” can be made for “Keep it complex!” But what sets “Keep it complex!” apart is having to think through the complications. “Keep it simple!” acts as if it wants to win the argument without much further ado. “Keep it complex. . .” knows the “it” is about finding complex arguments that stick, at least for a while.

Principal sources

Stirling, A. (2010). ‘Keep It Complex!’, Nature Comment, 23/30 December, 468: 1029-1031

Wood, M. (2005). “Seven Types of Obliquity”. In Literature and the Taste of Knowledge (The Empson Lectures, pp. 95-127). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

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