Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Complexifying the simple

There is always an easy solution to every human problem—neat, plausible, and wrong.

Educators spend a lot of time simplifying the seemingly complex.  That's great -- when it's the right thing to do, but methinks we do it too much.  Maybe we need to spend more time complexifying the seemingly simple.  An awful lot of things that are really important to understand, like human contributions to climate change, for example, aren't simple, but we seem drawn to seeing things in black and white.

As much as we might want simple answers about where to get our energy, the simple answers aren't really answers.  Darn it.

I'm guilty of sometimes oversimplifying: In a bit of frustration at a meeting about a certain energy source under consideration for development in New York State I suggested that we just need to park our cars and turn off our lights.  If only.

Of course, our personal energy use is very important and there's a lot of low-hanging fruit in terms of energy and carbon emissions reductions.  My wife and I have had a Prius for 10 years.  We've upgraded the insulation and replaced the lighting with more efficient CFLs in all five of the houses we've lived in over the last 16 years.  And you should do that stuff too.

It's simply the right thing to do.

Efficiency is key to conserving not only energy, but also key to conserving something that approximates many of the things we like about our lifestyles.

If that's as far as you get, that's better than not taking those steps.  But what are they steps toward?  Well, I'm a strong believer that what you do is what you learn, and working to reduce your energy use pushes you to understand your energy use in the context of the broader world, at least if you let it.  It's a way of looking at what you're doing in the right way.  And:

"I have yet to see any problem, however complicated, which, when you looked at it in the right way, did not become still more complicated."


How do you judge when to complexify and when to simplify when you're trying to help someone understand something?  When is nuance helpful and when is it harmful?  

1 comment:

Dugganhaas said...

A link in a comment on my Facebook page is relevant:

Which reminded me of this: