Complexity and Simplicity

The thing that struck me about the talk about the haiku in the reading was how it became a union of complexity and simplicity. A simple poem could be an expression of much greater complexity, and a large, complex problem may arise from a relatively simple issue.

In response to this comment made in the blog that I was reading just now:

“We live in a postmodern age where singular solutions have become incompatible with convoluted, compound problems. ”

I would like to talk about something that I learned in some computer programming classes that I’ve taken in the past, and that is “elegance”.

When talking about “good” computer code, one of the words used to describe such code is “elegance”. There has been much discussion about elegance and what it means in computer programming, so I don’t hope to provide an answer or repeat every side of the discussion here. But I would like to offer it as a response to the above quotation.

An elegant solution does not necessarily mean it is a singular solution. It also does not mean it is a “simple” solution to a complex problem. An elegant solution (in the context of computer programming, and elegant piece of code, or in the context of international relations, an elegant diplomatic policy) can be multifaceted, intricate, and address a variety of topics.

Maybe it’s easier to define it by what it is not. It is not convoluted. It does not have a list of exceptions that must be checked off each time you wish to implement the solution. It is not cumbersome. It does not lumber through an issue each time it makes itself known.

It is subtle, nuanced, efficient, effective, and neither more simple nor more complex than it absolutely needs to be.

I think we tend to view things in a binary of “simple” and “complex”, and that duality clouds our vision from seeing what needs to be seen. Rather than looking to solve a “simple” or “complex” problem in a “simple” or “complex” way, we should instead focus on finding the most “elegant” solution. Sometimes this may lead us to performing a simple act. Sometimes this may lead us to a series of actions. The emphasis should be on how we can solve the problem in the best way, and not how we can keep it within some framework of “simplicity” or “complexity”.

And, of course, we must maintain awareness of the larger issues at hand:

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