Let’s Make The Complex Look Simple

Flickr / Emilio Küffer
Flickr / Emilio Küffer

One of the scariest experiences a human can have is thinking about how much complexity is contained within the world we live in. When I say, “the world we live in,” I don’t mean the realm we can see every day with our naked eyes, or even the whole planet we live on. I mean the entire universe.

For example, the radius of our universe is 1010 light years. This means it would take light 10,000,000,000 years to get halfway across the universe. This radius is getting bigger all the time as the universe continues to expand. Within this universe, we estimate there to be 1.5×1021 stars. That number is based on what we can actually see in the sky. It’s entirely possible that there are actually even more stars, so far away from us that we cannot see them.

We humans are attached to just one of these stars, thanks to the orbit of the blue and green planet where we live. There are about 7.125 billion of us on this planet, a number that has more than doubled since the 1960s. Each one of those 7.125 billion people is composed of cells. 37 trillion of them, actually. Each of these cells is made of molecules. Molecules are made of even smaller particles called atoms. These atoms are made of even smaller particles called protons, neutrons, and electrons. These things are all so small, you have to pay thousands of dollars to buy very expensive microscopes in order to see them. And they compose everything we can encounter with our five senses. The complexity is maddening regardless of whether you look at the large scale or the smallest.

Our world extends beyond the physical. We exist in not only the perceivable three dimensions but also in the realms of the mind, the heart, and the spirit. Just as scientists have spent centuries studying the truths of our physical world, great philosophers, thinkers, and leaders have spent centuries trying to determine the truths of these abstract dimensions. For eons we’ve been wondering:

“Where did we come from?”

“Why are we here?”

“What is the right thing to do?”

Within these simple sentences we’ve compacted an endless amount of complexity and new questions. Pause momentarily, and think about one of these questions. Do you have an answer? If you do, it’s probably based on at least one or two underlying assumptions. How do you know those assumptions are correct? This process continues infinitely for each of these questions and countless others like them. The truth is, we don’t have answers. It isn’t that we don’t have any ideas about what the answers might be. We just can’t agree on which ideas may or may not be correct.

Our brains are really big, and really good at thinking. Despite this, they aren’t big enough to handle all the complexity, because when you take all that chaos and complexity and try to understand it, the only thing you end up understanding is that it can’t be understood. We can’t do it. So we must break things down. We’re very good at this. Our ability to break things down has resulted in the wheel, the printing press, the lightbulb, the television, the computer, the Internet, and the cell phone. It has also resulted in language, science, and art. Humans prove themselves over and over to be extremely capable at taking a very complex thing, dividing it into its component parts, and using them to understand the whole.

We have no choice but to do this. If we didn’t simplify, we would never survive. We would be overwhelmed by all the variables and factors and infinite possibilities that race past us in the blur of existence. Sometimes, we are. So we must always make the complex simple. It is a process that will never end. It is a war we will never win. We can never know or understand everything. This is the human quest: to make sense of all the complexity, to cut through all the chaos that is imbued within human life, and to find the truth. This is the human quest: to make the complex simple. TC mark

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