The Value of a Complex Text

I was recently reading some of David Hume‘s opinions on the values of keeping philosophical explanations as brief and to the point as possible. He criticises overly convoluted and unnecessarily esoteric language as demonstrating poor mastery of the topic being communicated. Hume believes it possible to explain essential truths and philosophical revelations without resorting to complex, compound statements in language.

This is a compelling point and certainly contains some significant truth when applied to teaching and education: the more completely a person understands an idea, the greater likelihood they can convey that concept with relative simplicity. An artful use of metaphor can usually capture and convey the essence of even the most diabolically complex theories or concepts.

There is however a certain art to the construction and analysis of a complex narrative or text. Some realities and concepts are so very complex that their communication should not unsurprisingly also become convoluted, multidimensional and deeply layered. Complex narrative communications may themselves be the most appropriate way to convey some subtle and esoteric ideas. Complex narratives may become difficult in some instances to follow but the act of intellectual effort required to follow the semantic thread is both a method of training the mind and an act of active reception of a powerful way of communicating potentially difficult concepts.

Complex ideas and concepts should certainly be amenable to simple explanation through straightforward language.  I agree that if someone can not explain a complex idea in simple terms they very likely do not understand it fully.  An issue which arises is that a simpler, narrower and shallower vocabulary tends to expand the size of the required explanatory text.  Complex terminology, although certainly something not to be embraced for its own sake, allows for the compression of information.  Complex words, concepts and vocabularies when used effectively and with a fair degree of tasteful restraint are tools which allow for complex ideas to be communicated without an excessive amount of written or spoken words being required to convey the message.  If the author of a complex text assumes a certain base-level education or aptitude of their audience, this is likely either targeted to a specific audience or is hoping to instill some creative rumination and self-education in a potential audience.  In a world where almost all of humanity’s collected history and knowledge is available to any one of us through a few clicks of a mouse or swipes on a screen, claiming ignorance of a concept or word in an attempt to invalidate a complex argument is a poor defence for intellectual laziness.

The various narrative methods, the wordplay and logical suspensions of a complex text may inform and educate us in ways that both simulate and stimulate neural plasticity and intellectual creativity.

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