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January 2, 2020

Theory and Theatre


When complexity is used to hide ignorance and feign learnedness.

In law, we have the problem of judges who like to write expositions that are unnecessarily lengthy and floral in order to appear ‘erudite’.

Judges who do so are often chastised, and rightly so. Though the carrying out and execution of justice can admittedly be complicated, the basic precepts of justice and the reasoning behind decisions should be straightforward to understand. As Lord Sumption (when he was Queen’s Counsel) had put it:

… Ultimately, (the) law is just common sense with knobs on.

Apparently the field of science has been seeing similar problems. See Scientific American - The Simple Truth about Physics:

… The trendy attraction to complexity is shared by senior scientists who wish to make their work nuanced and less accessible to scrutiny. Although sophistication is often valued as a trademark of the elite, science is better served if its results are expressed in simple and transparent terms. When asked by reporters: “How do you manage to explain your research so clearly?” I often reply: “By describing only things that I understand and admitting what I do not know.” Complexity is sometimes used as theatrical smoke and fog to obscure the unflattering image of ignorance.

The physicist Richard Feynman said: “Just as a poet often has license from the rules of grammar and pronunciation, we should like to ask for ‘physicists’ license’ from the rules of mathematics in order to express what we wish to say in as simple a manner as possible.” Indeed, the original PhD thesis of Louis de Broglie, which established the wave-particle duality in quantum mechanics, was short and simple and earned him the Nobel Prize just five years later.


 

 
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