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Regarding Complexity


Simplicity enjoys a peculiar status in Western and Eastern ways & means of thinking things through.        Simplicity is an essential target for Zen, Ocham’s razor, quantum physics, Minimalist aesthetics, acupuncture, formal logic. All are standing tributes to elegance, efficiency, grounding. Achieving genuine simplicity, however, is complex, not that easy to achieve. Intuitive, pre-theoretical appreciation of the simple is fraught with mercurial inversion and paradox. Mangled with the simplistic and crypto-reductive, simplicity is and has frequently been maligned by association. 


However, with reasonable certitude it can be stated that the flesh is heir to a daunting array of complexities. A singular life itself is a problematic labyrinth of equilibria and delicate equipoise ricocheting in every which way direction in the course of that given sentient life…This is the first issue.


In a cultural environment where the now dominant Cartesian-Newtonian axis has by means of analogy and metaphor reduced the physical world to clock work and billiard balls is now in the shaky hands of the present digital culture. At the other end of the spectrum rests the essential Freudian insight: You are who you have become. Which is of course a simplification, but just barely.


Hence we are in the grip of descriptive terms based upon metaphors, analogies and tropes which purport to explain the world with models drawn from the current and dominant technologies in our midst.


The second issue at hand is best phrased in a question: How do simple instructions evolve into a set of complexities which breed variation and surprise over and again with constantly shifting ways and means? This is the prime model of prevailing evolutionary theory…The big bang is followed by the creation of atomic particles which eventually coalesce into molecules which in turn evolve into simple organisms, which evolve into complex organisms and ecologies which eventually achieve consciousness, and finally self-consciousness.


Problematic labyrinths aside, the next and 3rd issue addresses the degree of complexity, and the subsequent degree of difficulty engaged by the very idea of complexity. To help sort this out, a few fragments from the OED. To wit: It is “consisting of or comprehending various parts united or connected together: formed by a combination of different elements, composite and compound.” And / or, “Evolved nature or structure, intricacy” Followed by “Consisting of or embracing many elements or details; comprehensive.”


Comprehensive indeed, take the case of sentient life. Again, it is an issue of a non-isolated event; it is instead all about emerging webs of infinitesimal interconnection. The dead reckoning logistics of natural selection with continuous adaptation to shifting  circumstances and their subsequent consequences.

Further models to consider: the efficiency / stability problem as a reflection of complexity.


Frank Gillette

East Hampton / 1991

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