Saturday, 23 February 2013

The Complication Stage

One of the short stories that serve as chapters in Zenna Henderson's book No Different Flesh contains a comment on the stages of knowledge. I've adopted it as part of my worldview.
“See that tree up there? Simplicity says--a tree. Then wonder sets in and you begin to analyze it--cells, growth, structure, leaves, photosynthesis, roots, bark, rings--on and on until the tree is a mass of complications. Then finally, with reservations not quite to be removed, you can put it back together again and sigh in simplicity one more--a tree. You’re in the complication period in the world now.”
A small example of the three stages.
  1. A child learns about a poet named E.E. Cummings, and spells his name in the normal manner. (Simplicity)
  2. The child learns that the poet often omitted capitalization and sees his name spelled without capitals. For this one poet, the child makes an exception to the rule. (Complication).
  3. The child learns that E.E. Cummings usually wrote his names with capital letters in the usual place and disliked the lower-case spelling. The child reverts to normal practice. (Simplicity).
A better example of hard-won simplicity comes as the dedication to Theodore Sturgeon's collection of short stories, Sturgeon is Alive and Well:
" . . . Only the simplest go beyond
lucidities in season,
When hungry, eat, when tired, sleep,
and love for no reason."
I should explain how I understand this little poem. It says that paying attention to the simple necessities at their proper times is wisdom. Those who neglect them by going "beyond" them for satisfaction are "simple" in the sense of "unwise."

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