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Complication Made Easy!

KT's picture

 “Problems in science are sometimes made easier by adding complications.” (Dennett, p.38) 

It’s a striking assertion. I’m not sure if he added this line for drama or for meaning, so I’d like to explore it a bit. By my logic, it seems like we’re inclined to try to make things easier so they are more understandable and predictable. In fact, there are volumes of books titled “[X] Made Easy!” I’m not familiar with any titled, “[X] Made More Complicated!” But I also see a point here. As we accumulate new input from various sources and observations, we have the opportunity to find the holes in our current theories. Moving forward, this compels us to rethink the problem with a decreased list of possibilities. The complications make problems easier because they are the clues and they point us in a new direction. Here’s my complicated problem: if we are to say that there is randomness in the universe and that unpredictability and endless possibilities (variations) are the norm, then does the extinction of one idea make anything easier? As with biological extinction, the loss of one variety [of idea] could just pave the way for more diversity to grow in the surviving varieties. Does adding complication really make things easier? I would just say that it makes things more interesting. 

I invite my classmates to find the holes in this argument and make the conversation more interesting. 


ckosarek's picture

What is a complication, really?

 I take KT's definition of  "complication" within her argument to mean an addition of something with a negative connotation, but I'm not sure that "addition" is the right way to look at a "complication." In Dennet's algorithms, the more a process is broken down into its components, the easier it is to yield a certain result (because there's less room for interpretation). But what KT seems to be arguing is that addition equals more room for interpretation. Given that Dennet focuses on algorithms and their numerous components (or complications, if you take "complication" to be aligned with "addition") in a positive, useful way,  I would think that he defines "complication" in a different way. Perhaps he means to define complication as a deficit or a taking away; when something is taken out of the equation, I think there's more room to mess up the algorithm, more room to interpret, more room to "complicate" an ever-changing process. 

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