Opinion | Column

Simple complexity, revisited

simple complexity

At the beginning of my fall 2016 column, I began by briefly summarizing Descartes’ exploration of epistemology: “Consider a basket of apples, where the basket is your mind and the apples are your beliefs. Now consider that if you have even a single rotten apple in your basket, it will contaminate all of the other apples.”

This beckons us to reconsider not only our beliefs but also why we hold them.

How could you know anything you believe is actually true, when you know that you hold many false beliefs? Are a few incorrect beliefs interfering with the rest of your belief system? And how could you possibly hope to know truth in a world that takes pleasure in its unending moral, physical, religious, political, social and scientific ambiguities?

The mind-bendingly complex nature of the world makes it extremely difficult to become an expert on even one thing, let alone everything. And this reality leads us to humility: we are only students in a miraculous world, and our question to discover more of it is not a contest for who can get the most “right answers,” but rather an opportunity for us to take a few years to take a step back and consider where we might fit in or make a contribution.

You can’t become an expert on everything, but you can learn something. In other words, our inability to know everything doesn’t cancel out our ability to know something.

In my first column, I also laid out a simple idea: truth is often very, very complex.

I noted that the difficulty of seeking out truth does not make it any less valuable. The ambiguities and nuances of the world are no reason to not explore it; quite the opposite. Truth is important, and it’s worth seeking out.

That is, and will continue to be, the thesis of my column heading into this spring.

Throughout my column, I will dig into topics ranging from politics (if I still have the willpower) all the way to effective altruism. I will consider the ethical implications of living in a college bubble. I will question the role of unfounded premises in our underlying beliefs. And yes, I will consider the societal implications of living in a “post-truth” era spurred by demagogues and distrust.

I will attempt to explore these questions, bearing a few things in mind. I will endeavour to discuss these topics in an honest way, being straightforward about my own personal biases or other factors that might influence my opinion. I will recognize nuance and ambiguity while also taking some sort of position, leaving room for error, lack of complete information, or outright misunderstanding. I will always be asking for feedback or pushback, and might even write new columns that reevaluate past columns.

I will also attempt to find unique topics that you wouldn’t find on the front page of CNN. What are the lies that politicians feed us everyday? Is capitalism a morally corrupt and unjust system, the single greatest force for good in history, or something in between? Should we care about existential risks like artificial intelligence safety, or is that a concern for the next generation? What can we reasonably ask people to give to help those in poverty?

As university students, we have the opportunity of a lifetime to ask these interesting questions while being supported and resourced by professors, the library system, student organizations, programs, events and all kinds of other tools of inquiry. We have the chance to reconsider some of our core beliefs, or at least question where they came from. We have the tools to become lifelong learners.

This column is taglined once again “simple complexity”: a celebration and exercise of this opportunity. So, as I dig into some of these ideas, I’m not going to avoid ambitious topics, I’m not going to dodge counterpoints and I’m not going to shy away from bold claims, but I will always be looking for nuance, and I will always be asking for feedback, pushback and supplementation.

As I’ve continued in my academic journey, I’ve found that as I become more educated, I don’t seem to have more answers, per se. Rather, I have a better idea of what sorts of questions I should be asking when I stumble across an idea, problem or issue. It is my hope that this column will provide exactly that: interesting commentary that raises relevant questions about interesting topics.

Because if anything is clear, it’s that the world around us is complex, and far too interesting to simply approach at face value. There’s always somewhere to dig deeper, to question more thoroughly or to reconsider.

So here’s to that quest for more complete truth, and here’s to some more good apples.

David Wohlever Sánchez is a Trinity sophomore. His column, “simple complexity,” runs on alternate Wednesdays.

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