Simple / Complex





Simple                    -                   Complex
Logos                     -                   Chaos
Solid                       -                    Liquid
Permanence            -                    Change
Known                    -                    Unknown
Perfect                    -                   Imperfect
Heavens                  -                     Earth
Pattern                    -                     Matter
Father                     -                     Mother
God                         -                     Man
Birth                        -                     Death






We can only make sense of a fraction of the information that constantly presents itself to us. The stability of the sense that we make is therefore fragile. Our models of experience are limited, incomplete, and chronically prone to failure.

Our essential existential problem [can be] conceptualized as vulnerability to complexity [...]

 […] we are engineers, more than scientists. When we explore, we try to find out what operations work, more than what things are. In fact, we can not find out what things “are,” because they are too complex. We constantly strive, instead, to determine how the difficult and finally incomprehensible circumstances currently obtaining might be bent more effectively towards fulfillment of our biologically-grounded ends.

[…] we will make mistakes (because we do not understand everything, and because things we do “understand” change) and […] whenever we make a mistake, we encounter what we have not properly categorized and are presently ignoring (since, had we categorized it, and properly paid attention to it, we would not have made a mistake).

[…] This “revenge of the unjustly ignored” immediately and thoroughly complicates our simple functional worlds.

George Kelly (1955) first hinted at the uncomfortable relationship we all hold with complexity […] insisting that human beings had an arbitrary, essential, unequivocal desire to be right – right once and for all, without question.

[…] belief regulates and constrains complexity

[…] Individuals are therefore motivated to maintain the structure of their belief systems, because those belief systems are painfully constructed abstracted patterns of action, designed to meet desired motivational ends, in a world complex and anxiety-provoking beyond understanding.

[…] we need to invert our understanding of anxiety, and come to understand it as our default position in the world; come to understand it as something painstakingly brought under partial control, in consequence of effortful learning, and not something added through learning to a normative background of calm competence and security.

[…] the tendency to remain ideologically committed to a given position (associated with failure to explore and update in the face of anomaly) is also motivated by the desire to maintain the current superstructure of belief and tradition, in the face of evidence that a currently-unspecifiably-large portion of it has been rendered dangerously and troublesomely invalid [...]

Events that indicate error in the pursuit of goals are negatively valenced, but informative. Ideologically rigid individuals sacrifice new and potentially useful information […] to avoid short-term negative emotion.

Ideological rigidity is therefore the tendency to avoid emotionally and cognitively-demanding exploration and information-gathering, subsequent to the receipt of an error message, in the interests of maintaining short-term emotional security. 

This makes totalitarianism of belief something that may be indulged in by default, so to speak – a sin of omission – and something that is potently reinforced, negatively, in the short term. This combination of ease and emotional relief might help explain the widespread prevalence of rigid, maladaptive belief.

Dogmatic certainty is a condition that may be thoughtlessly and carelessly indulged in – a condition that lurks constantly as a temptation, as a second-rate alternative to the travail of authentic adaptation.


It is necessary for us to generate simplified, functional models, in order to function in situations constantly beyond our understanding. However, this process of simplified functional modeling can be pathologized by individuals who are unwilling to allow any unconstrained complexity whatsoever to exist – pathologized, that is, by the existential cowards who make ideological purity the hallmark of existence.

What Becker and the neo-Freudians describe as death terror can be more accurately conceptualized as a priori fear of unconstrained complexity.

[Jordan B. Peterson]
‘Complexity Management Theory: Motivation for Ideological Rigidity and Social Conflict’, in Cortex, December 2002, p. 431-2, 440, 444,  450-1, 454-5




The ego refers to the means of organizing the conscious mind. The ego selects those perceptions, thoughts, memories, and feelings that will become conscious.

The organizational structure of the ego provides a sense of identity and day-to-day continuity so that individuals are not a mass of random conscious and unconscious perceptions, thoughts, and feelings.

By screening out great amounts of unconscious material (memories, thoughts, and feelings), the ego attempts to achieve a sense of coherence and consistency, while at the same time being an expression of individuality.

[Richard S. Scharf]
Theories of Psychotherapy and Counseling: Concepts and Cases (2nd Edition), p.91






Since the Psychopathology of Everyday Life things have changed. This book isolated and made analyzable things which had heretofore floated along unnoticed in the broad stream of perception.

For the entire spectrum of optical, and now also acoustical, perception the film has brought about a similar deepening of apperception.

By close-ups of the things around us, by focusing on hidden details of familiar objects, by exploring common place milieus under the ingenious guidance of the camera, the film, on the one hand, extends our comprehension of the necessities which rule our lives; on the other hand, it manages to assure us of an immense and unexpected field of action.

Our taverns and our metropolitan streets, our offices and furnished rooms, our railroad stations and our factories appeared to have us locked up hopelessly. Then came the film and burst this prison-world asunder by the dynamite of the tenth of a second, so that now, in the midst of its far-flung ruins and debris, we calmly and adventurously go traveling. With the close-up, space expands; with slow motion, movement is extended.

The enlargement of a snapshot does not simply render more precise what in any case was visible, though unclear: it reveals entirely new structural formations of the subject. So, too, slow motion not only presents familiar qualities of movement but reveals in them entirely unknown ones “which, far from looking like retarded rapid movements, give the effect of singularly gliding, floating, supernatural motions.”

Evidently a different nature opens itself to the camera than opens to the naked eye – if only because an unconsciously penetrated space is substituted for a space consciously explored by man [...] The camera introduces us to unconscious optics as does psychoanalysis to unconscious impulses.

[Walter Benjamin]
The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, section XIII





You should move to a small town, somewhere the rule of law still exists. You will not survive here. You are not a wolf, and this is a land of wolves now.

['Alejandro']
Dialogue from the film 'Sicario'




One reason why economists are increasingly apt to forget about the constant small changes which make up the whole economic picture is probably their growing preoccupation with statistical aggregates, which show a very much greater stability than the movements of the detail.

This is, perhaps, also the point where I should briefly mention the fact that the sort of knowledge with which I have been concerned is knowledge of the kind which by its nature cannot enter into statistics and therefore cannot be conveyed to any central authority in statistical form.

The statistics which such a central authority would have to use would have to be arrived at precisely by abstracting from minor differences between the things, by lumping together, as resources of one kind, items which differ as regards location, quality, and other particulars, in a way which may be very significant for the specific decision.

It follows from this that central planning based on statistical information by its nature cannot take direct account of these circumstances of time and place and that the central planner will have to find some way or other in which the decisions depending on them can be left to the "man on the spot."

[Friedrich Hayek]
'The Use of Knowledge in Society'




“First principle thinkers” or “contrarians”: They hold nuanced positions that oppose the policy on the x-axis, but support the moral virtue on the y-axis.

“These are people who are thinking for themselves, and are not buying baked-cakes. They’re buying the ingredients and they’re saying, well, I want more of this ingredient, I don’t like that ingredient. So they’re attempting to avoid having any pre-baked idea put in front of them.”

1. Peterson, who is in the “First principle thinkers” quadrant, gives a nuanced argument that is opposed to mandated equality of outcome (e.g. mandated income-equality between men and women), but that supports equality of opportunity (e.g. opposed to discrimination based on gender).

2. Newman is in the “Dupes” quadrant. She infers that Peterson’s opposition suggests he condones, or is at least unconcerned, with discrimination based on gender. For example, she said, “You’re saying, basically, it doesn’t matter if women aren’t getting to the top.”

3. As a result, Peterson is portrayed as a misogynist, or insensitive to gender discrimination, effectively moving him from the “First principle thinkers” quadrant to the “Troglodyte” quadrant. However, this is counter to his actual position, which is support for equality of opportunity (and not discriminating based on age, race, gender or sexual orientation), which he said was “eminently desirable.”

[Shane Mottishaw]
'Eric Weinstein’s Four Quadrant Model'




Complex vs. Complicated. 

An aircraft is a complicated system; all of its thousands of components are knowable, definable and capable of being catalogued as are all of the relationships between and among those components, while human systems are complex.

A complex system comprises many interacting agents, an agent being anything that has identity. We all exist in many identities in our personal and work lives. As we move among identities, we observe different rules, rituals and procedures unconsciously.

In a complex system, the components and their interactions are changing and can never be quite pinned down. The system is irreducible. Cause and effect cannot be separated because they are intimately intertwined.

When a rumor of reorganization surfaces: the complex human system starts to mutate and change in unknowable ways; new patterns form in anticipation of the event. If you walk up to an aircraft with a box of tools in your hand, nothing changes.

Another feature of a complex system is retrospective coherence in which the current state of affairs always makes logical sense, but only when we look backwards. The current pattern is logical, but is only one of many patterns that could have formed, any one of which would be equally logical.

Scientific management served well in the revolutions of total quality management and business process re-engineering and continues to be applicable in the domain of the complicated; however, just as Newtonian physics was bounded by the understandings of quantum mechanics, so scientific management has been bounded by the need to manage knowledge and learning.


Complex vs. Chaotic. 

A complex system comprises many interacting identities in which, while I cannot distinguish cause and effect relationships, I can identify and influence patterns of interactivity. In a complex domain we manage to recognize, disrupt, reinforce and seed the emergence of patterns; we allow the interaction of identities to create coherence and meaning.

With a chaotic system all connections have broken down and we are in a state of turbulence.  In a chaotic domain no [...] patterns are possible unless we intervene to impose them; they will not emerge through the interaction of agents.

[Dave Snowden]
'Complex Acts of Knowing: Paradox and Descriptive Self-Awareness'




We, members of the human variety of primates, have a hunger for rules because we need to reduce the dimension of matters so they can get into our heads […] 

The more random the information is, the greater the dimensionality, and thus the more difficult to summarise. The more you summarise, the more order you put in, the less randomness.

Hence the same condition that makes us simplify pushes us to think that the world is less random than it actually is.

[Nassim Nicholas Taleb]
The Black Swan, p. 69




It happens all the time: a cause is proposed to make you swallow the news and make matters more concrete. 

After a candidate’s defeat in an election, you will be supplied with the “cause” of the voter’s disgruntlement. Any conceivable cause can do. The media, however, go to great lengths to make the process “thorough” with their armies of fact-checkers.

It is as if they wanted to be wrong with infinite precision (instead of accepting being approximately right, like a fable writer).

[Nassim Nicholas Taleb]
The Black Swan, p. 74




“Rorschach, I don’t know very well. I believe he’s a man of great integrity, but he seems to see the world in very black and white, Manichean terms. I personally believe that to be an intellectual limitation.”

['Adrian Veidt']
Watchmen, Chap. XI




Life is being kept going by divergent problems which have to be ‘lived’ and are solved only in death. Convergent problems on the other hand are man’s most useful invention; they do not, as such, exist in reality, but are created by a process of abstraction. When they have been solved, the solution can be written down and passed on to others, who can apply it without needing to reproduce the mental effort necessary to find it. 

If this were the case with human relations - in family life, economics, politics, education, and so forth - well. I am loss how to finish the sentence. There would be no more human relations but only mechanical reactions; life would be a living death. Divergent problems, as it were, force man to strain himself to a level above himself; they demand, and thus provoke the supply of, forces from a higher level, thus bringing love, beauty, goodness, and truth into our lives. It is only with the help of these higher forces that the opposites can be reconciled in the living situation.

The physical sciences and mathematics are concerned exclusively with convergent problems. That is why they can progress cumulatively, and each new generation can begin just where their forbears left off. The price, however, is a heavy one. Dealing exclusively with convergent problems does not lead into life but away from it.

'Up to the age of thirty, or beyond it, wrote Charles Darwin in his autobiography, 'poetry of many kinds ... gave me great pleasure, and even as a schoolboy I took intense delight in Shakespeare, especially in the historical plays. I have also said that formerly pictures gave me considerable, and music very great, delight. But now for many years I cannot endure to read a line of poetry: I have tried lately to read Shakespeare, and found it so intolerably dull that it nauseated me. I have also lost almost any taste for pictures or music. ... My mind seems to have become a kind of machine for grinding general laws out of large collections of fact, but why this should have caused the atrophy of that part of the brain alone, on which the higher tastes depend, I cannot conceive. ... The loss of these tastes is a loss of happiness, and may possibly be injurious to the intellect, and more probably to the moral character, by enfeebling the emotional part of our nature.'

This impoverishment, so movingly described by Darwin, will overwhelm our entire civilisation if we permit the current tendencies to continue which Gilson calls 'the extension of positive science to social facts'. All divergent problems can be turned into convergent problems by a process of 'reduction'. The result, however, is the loss of all higher forces to ennoble human life, and the degradation not only of the emotional part of our nature, but also, as Darwin sensed, of our intellect and moral character. The signs are everywhere visible today.

The true problems of living - in politics, economics, education, marriage, etc. - are always problems of overcoming or reconciling opposites. They are divergent problems and have no solution in the ordinary sense of the word. They demand of man not merely the employment of his reasoning powers but the commitment of his whole personality. 

Naturally, spurious solutions, by way of a clever formula, are always being put forward; but they never work for long, because they invariably neglect one of the two opposites and thus lose the very quality of human life. 

In economics, the solution offered may provide for freedom but not for planning, or vice versa. In industrial organisation, it may provide for discipline but not for workers' participation in management, or vice versa. In politics, it might provide for leadership without democracy or, again, for democracy without leadership.

To have to grapple with divergent problems tends to be exhausting, worrying, and wearisome. Hence people try to avoid it and to run away from it. A busy executive who has been dealing with divergent problems all day long will read a detective story or solve a crossword puzzle on his journey home. He has been using his brain all day; why does he go on using it? The answer is that the detective story and the crossword puzzle present convergent problems, and that is the relaxation. They require a bit of brainwork, even difficult brainwork, but they do not call for this straining and stretching to a higher level which is the specific challenge of a divergent problem, a problem in which irreconcilable opposites have to be reconciled. 

It is only the latter that are the real stuff of life.

[E.F. Schumacher]
Small is Beautiful, p. 79-81