Protesilaos Stavrou
Philosopher. Polymath.

Notes on simplicity

1 Simplicity can be understood as the state of affairs that enables the lossless decoupling of the factors of the case from each other. Conversely, it may be seen as the absence of inseparable ties between otherwise distinct objects.

1.1 That which is simple lends itself to portability, modularity. It is clear and concise. Stable and sufficient. The simpler the thing, the more perfect it is.

1.2 Perfection does not consist in comprehensiveness. That which attempts to anticipate all possible outcomes is forever trapped in the constitution of the case that served as the basis for the initial foresight.

1.3 The simple is that which complements the hitherto unforeseen. It does not fail to cope with it. The simple adapts to evolving circumstances.

1.4 To be simple is to be resilient. Complexity is the source of all fragility.

1.5 The simple stands alone.

2 From simplicity comes complexity, but not vice versa. For the complex is not reducible to its elements, by virtue of its emergent properties.

2.1 Emergence is the phenomenon by which a set of relations produces states of affairs that are specific to them. The factors of the case do not exhibit those properties in isolation, but only in their interplay.

2.1.1 Emergence describes systemic phenomena.

2.2 Simplicity and emergence cannot co-exist within the same scope of application1. What may exist at the given level of abstraction is constants or patterns that are discernible in emergent phenomena.

2.3 The simple, understood in its absolute, is an object of thought. It is the abstraction derived from whatever patterns we may discern.

2.4 All that is rendered susceptible to the senses is a composite, a system of sub-systems within their wider environment, all confined to the ecosystem2.

2.5 Simplicity is a mode of relation, not of instantiation. That which is simple is defined as such in comparison to the other factors of the case. It is possible to decouple it from them without diminishing its qualities and those of the objects that stand in relation to it.

2.6 Standalone simplicity is meaningless. The object of reference is not examined in isolation. Human has no such capacity, the world has no phenomena of the sort. All that is, conforms to the principle of universal inter-connectedness.

3 Both simplicity and complexity concern the overall structure of systems.

3.1 A system is a set of factors in their joint operation and dependence that is governed by local and global rules and determined by both endogenous and exogenous events.

3.2 If systems consist of systems and so on, how can point 1 ever be true? For the decoupling of the factors of the case would necessarily result in the overall alteration of the system. The constitutions of the case prior to the decoupling is not the same as the one after. It must follow that the given {sub-,}system is no longer in effect.

3.3 In that regard, simplicity hints at the possibility of breaking a system by disentangling its factors from each other, without affecting their presence.

3.4 Still, the definition in point 1 leaves much to be desired, for it implies that the state of the factor of a case is in no way framed and conditioned by its immediate environment.

3.5 That which is part of a system is partaking in the feedback loops that are specific to the system. The factor affects and is affected by them.

3.6 There can be no system where its factors do not stand together.

3.7 So point 2 is imprecise. For a factor can only be simple if it can be gracefully extracted from its system. That amounts to complexity leading to simplicity.

3.8 Furthermore, how can emergence ever be an obstacle to the reduction of complexity into simplicity? If the simple can be derived from the complex, then emergence is irrelevant. It only concerns the level of abstraction at which it occurs—none of its factors or sub-systems in their isolation.

3.9 We can conceive of local and global rules. Sub- and super- systems that underpin or encompass states of affairs. Epistemology must thus account for the scope of application.

4 The simple can only be thought of as such.