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Gross Simplification

September 09, 2012

“Administrative man recognizes that the world he perceives is a drastically simplified model of the buzzing, blooming confusion that constitutes the real world. He is content with the gross simplification because he believes that the real world is mostly empty—that most of the facts of the real world have no great relevance to any particular situation he is facing and that most significant chains of causes and consequences are short and simple.”

-Herbert Simon

James C. Scott excerpts this quote in his book Seeing Like a State, which I recently started reading on a very strong recommendation. Herbert Simon was a pioneer of artificial intelligence and his warning against oversimplification foreshadows the effects that more recent technologies seem to be having on people who use them. In fact, Simon’s quote expresses (in more extreme language) what I was trying to say in one of my first posts on this blog, You Are Not a Packet. Scott’s ideas about legibility and complexity will probably show up a lot more here as I progress through his book.