The alarm bells start ringing when someone gives you advice, ‘sure, it’s simple…but it isn’t easy’ (sometimes this last part is omitted)
What is it about simplicity that appeals to us? Aside from perhaps one of my friends (you know who you are), I can’t imagine many people would purposefully make life seemingly more difficult for themselves. I have one pal who used to work in London, and I was flabbergasted when he told me that he knows exactly to the second what time to leave in order to get to the tube station at exactly the correct time. I had never considered doing that…but he might be pleased to know that since then I have started using ‘the journey planner’.
Imagine this case scenario…you get home from a hard day of grafting on the keyboard. As you approach your building, in which you are located on the 6th floor, you proceed to clamber up the wobbly drainpipe, wave to the confused neighbours, force open your lounge window and throw yourself inside (and marking the lovely sandstone carpet might I add).
Obviously we would assume this to be an act of desperation…he/she forgot their keys?
What if I told you that this person just did it like that…no reason, nothing. It wasn’t as if they intended to get more satisfaction, but it just happened like that. You’d probably think that they’re bonkers.
So why is it that we are automatically geared to take the most simple route…why do we value efficiency in the work place? One answer could be that we have evolved to be simple, basically. Perhaps it allows our neurones to chill out (and on that note, when’s the last time your neurones had a holiday…and no, thinking of times when you went on holiday doesn’t count as a beach break for them!)
So, that’s that, we just like simplicity because of evolution? Sorry…there’s more to this story than meets the eye. Here’s the clincher…if we as scientists are being forced to find the simplest answers by a brain which controls us, then how can we say for sure that science will lead the way to the truth?
Why do we feel the universe is so rational and not completely incomprehensible?
A great case study of this is phycisist Lee Smolin, who said that one day it should be plausible to write all the laws of the universe on a t-shirt. I agree with him that the universe is rational, and the most simple and rational reason why is because the universe (and likely many, many others) was conceived by a rational being…and let’s put it frankly…that being must be a bit more clued up than we are (sorry if that offends anyone). PS. Notice that I didn’t use the word ‘God‘…oops, sorry.
To make the point, let’s say we’re just a brain that is simplicity-seeking for evolutionary reasons. Analogously, a scientist might hold up a thermometer (or perhaps something more like an MRI machine nowadays) and boldly declare, ‘I’m going to unravel all the mysteries of the universe with this advanced device‘. So he ventures out where no-one else has dared go before, and guess what he finds…temperature! He find it everywhere, loads of it, and of course concludes that temperature is the thing in the universe. But hold on Watson, where’s the other 97 % of the universe? OK, let’s not go there for now…
To conclude, I think it’s fair to say that if something appears simple, we should definetely take a step back once in a while and ask, ‘have I thought about this, or am I blindly following?‘ Or, as Mark Twain once said…
Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect