Sunday, September 15, 2013

Explain it to your Granny

I have always liked the idea that you can judge whether you understand something by whether you are able to explain it. That the core, important idea behind most things is quite simple - but finding that simplicity is the tough thing. If you get it, you can 'explain it to your granny'.

But perhaps the world is actually more complex than we like to think? We like stories. The world makes more sense to us when we can provide a narrative.

I am about half way through Tyler Cowen's 'Average is Over'. In it he is covering many really interesting things, and it is definitely worth reading. One of the subjects he touches on is dealing with complexity or being comfortable with uncomfortable positions. He looks at 'Computers v Man' in chess. It took a long time before computers finally claimed the scalp of a world champion - Gary Kasparov was beaten by IBM's Big Blue. Nowadays a man alone doesn't stand a chance. Comfortingly, a computer alone can also be beaten by the team of a man and a computer.

One of the areas where computers have taught man to be better is seeing through situations that are uncomfortable. Having seen computers play 'ugly moves' and come out winning, more of the Grandmasters are prepared to fight through periods of discomfort or chaos. Fighting for a narrative and a simple answer is probably still worthwhile, but recognising that you can still move forward when you don't have a complete answer to a very complex situation is perhaps the bravery required for brilliance.

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