The Danger of Oversimplification →May 28, 2019 • #
Many people are familiar with Occam’s razor, the principle summarized as:
Among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected.
There’s a tendency you notice all over for people to overcomplicate situations early. Before even fully understanding a problem, they often dig into their toolbox of knowledge for the most involved, and “powerful” weapon in the arsenal. There must be a reason for this — perhaps the propensity to convolute problems makes people feel more comfortable with their lack of a solution? “I don’t know what to do because problem X is incredibly complex.”
The post has examples from medicine, physics, crime, and more. It’s a useful heuristic when approaching novel problems.
When you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras.
But of course there are cases when oversimplification can be dangerous. It’s crucial to put your problem into context. If the stakes are life-and-death, in-depth analyses and study are essential. As the Einstein quote goes (one of my favorites):
Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.
- Weekend Reading: Universal Laws, Tandem, and Computers That Can See — Universal laws of the world, Tandem for live collaboration in Slack, and the forward march of vision for computers.
- Gates' Law: How Progress Compounds — Long-term investments and the potential of the 'Adjacent Possible'.
- Weekend Reading: Brains and Language, Hillshading in Blender, and Antifragility — The brain storing native language, Joe's work on hillshading, and living antifragility.