Thursday, 5 November 2015


I like complexity. I like complexity for its own sake. I am not altogether sure why I developed this curious predilection. This might entail a fascination for hard subjects like maths and science. As it happens, I do not have an aptitude for mathematics. Actually, I am pathologically stupid at maths. I am sure that if I did have a knack for it that I would have pursued it. I would probably spend all day racking my brain over labyrinthine equations. When it comes to science I find that I have a disturbing apathy towards natural phenomena. I read something written by David Berlinski recently. Please, for the love of God, don’t look the guy up. You’d be wasting your time. The man is a poseur and a wind-bag, albeit an entertaining one. Anyway, this little bit of writing sadly resonated with me: ‘I have never been particularly eager to know how it is that the universe was formed, or how a magnet works, or why, for that matter, water flows downhill. … There it is—a certain implacable lack of physical curiosity.’ (Unlike Berlinski, I am interested to how the universe was formed, but that’s down to ‘teleological’ arguments about philosophy than any interest in nitty-gritty science…)

I had an amusing and interesting experience recently. I was about to call it epiphanic, but I won’t get ahead of myself. I went to a celebration of Chile’s independence (18th of September). I ran into a computer science student. In these situations – in gatherings – one of the following outcomes will transpire: 1) I will stand awkwardly in a corner of the room, or 2) I will strike a conversation with the nerdiest boy in the room. So, in this particular gathering, I ended up the entire night speaking to the nerdiest boy in the room. We prattled at each other about political theory, philosophy and other tangential topics.

At one point, I looked at young children playing. I wistfully said something like, ‘I was once like that – completely carefree, childlike, spontaneous.’ He was visibly annoyed by what I said. He beamed back with ‘Stop talking about thing as if they were transient!’ As is my wont – I swear to God that I do it naturally, not to show-off – I did a bit of arcane name-dropping. I mentioned Heraclitus. (Yeah, right! Mentioning a name like that in a conversation is really natural!) I said that, for Heraclitus, a guy who lived 500 years before Christ, everything changed constantly, but that there was an underlying order governed by reason. He replied with, ‘For you, everything is the meta of the meta of the meta.’

He is right. Which leads me to the following. I like to look for underlying complexity. Surely science looks for underlying complexity, right? I look for it in topics in the humanities. I get excited by classical and jazz music where a lot of musical activity transpires simultaneously. (Organised by quite a mathematical structure. My mathematical ineptitude is probably why I never became a composer, an early dream.)  I get excited by arty and ambiguous films which are open to endless scrutiny. I get excited by huge, sprawling, digressive novels. My ambition is to write such novels. I am writing one right now. I like to read – and write – dense complex books for fun.

It has become clear to me that I am a tad too over-ambitious. I become attracted to complex subjects with little in the way of introduction. As an undergrad lit student, I always went for complex interpretations of texts. Although I graduated with a first, my lecturers must have sensed when reading my essays that I was getting ahead of myself most the time. These trained scholars, must have seen my essays as confused, hyperlexic and over-ambitious.

So I look for complexity in the ‘meta of the meta of the meta,’ not in empirical data or anything like that. It might mean that I have a scattered brain or that I am crack-pot. It might even mean that I am interested in pseudo-complexity! I see it like this: immerse yourself in the sea of complexity in a dense symphony, a novel, a film or a philosophical tract and you may emerge confused, enlightened or you simply be a richer person. Constructing something similar – i.e. a complex novel – is even more enlightening, confusing and enriching. So there you have it. This why I like complexity for complexity’s sake.

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