September 7, 2009

X is too complicated to explain

Saying that some theory or idea X is complicated -- too complicated to explain at the moment, for example -- can mean two possible things: first, X may be convoluted in the sense that it involves (or is composed of) many different parts, and thus requires significant time to explain, without X itself being abstruse. Or second, X may be abstruse, or difficult to understand, without being composed of many different parts. For example, Lakoff/Johnson's conceptual metaphor theory is, in my opinion, not particularly difficult to understand, but it is nonetheless difficult to explain to someone, say, who's never heard of it before, simply because it is composed of manifold theses and subtheses; one must explain traditional philosophical views of objectivity, the Cartesian notion of a disembodied mind, the pleonastic "metaphor metaphor" at the center of their cognitivist framework, and so on. Yet another good example -- at least in my view -- is Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection. On the other hand, then, "Russell's paradox" -- which brought the entire formidable edifice of Frege's logicism down -- is not an especially complicated idea, although most people do find it especially difficult to grasp. And then, of course, there are theories that are both convoluted and recondite, like string theory or Chomskian linguistics. Alternatively, then, some points -- like the one made in this post -- are neither convoluted nor recondite.