The innumerable facts about our current situation

–“Keep it simple!” and “Keep it complex!” are admonitions more variously complicated than they first appear.

To adapt points from an essay by 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 anymore.
  • “Keep it simple!” is one of those instructions that seems to know us without having to know each of us. The demand is to decide–Keep it simple!–without knowing if the demand is decidable.
  • When “Keep it simple!” is responded to with “Keep what simple?,” the former 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. While it makes seeking out exemplars irresistible, exemplars are always easy for someone else to undermine.

–Of course, parallel reservations can be made for “Keep it complex!” But what sets “Keep it complex!” apart is having to think through the complications. “Keep it complex!” accommodates, reflects and answers to complications.”Keep it simple!” acts as if it wants to win the argument without any such further work.

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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