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Embrace Simplicity and Clarity

Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler. Albert Einstein

As a response to the problem that too many people hide behind abstractions, we should focus more on how progress really happens: through clarity, simplicity, and analogies.

We should always remember that

“any scientist who [can’t] explain to an eight-year-old what he [is] doing [is] a charlatan.” Cat’s Cradle by Vonnegut


Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. Steve Jobs

Rewarding Clarity

Currently there is no reward for publishing great explanations of topics that are overcomplicated everywhere else. The paper that introduced a given topic gets all the citations. No one cites a paper that explains some topic much better than the original paper. This is clearly a problem, because one can argue that:

“One good scholarly paper is worth a hundred research papers.”

However, currently if you want to make a career in science you can't “waste” time writing good scholarly papers. Writing such papers is not rewarded, although they can be immensely helpful.

Therefore, to improve the situation scholarly papers should get more recognition.

It should be recognized instead that student intuitions are essential cognitive resources developed through years of real world experience. We understand the world by mapping events into the mental spaces of our imagination. The chief problem in learning physics is not to replace intuitions but to tune the mapping to produce a veridical image of the world in the imagination.MODELING THEORY for Math and Science Education by David Hestenes

The current situation is especially problematic, because it means that young researchers can't spend time writing textbooks:

For the purposes of a tenure committee, books are not considered peer-reviewed publications. Even though textbooks are often “more peer-reviewed than anything you’ll ever write again in your life,” Houtman says—“every single chapter is reviewed by a dozen academics,” in addition to editors—the work is not considered peer-reviewed, and therefore doesn’t count toward tenure at most institutions.

As a result, almost all textbooks are written by professors. This is a bad thing, because most professors have already forgotten what it's like to be a student. To quote C. S. Lewis:

“It often happens that two schoolboys can solve difficulties in their work for one another better than the master can. […] The fellow-pupil can help more than the master because he knows less. The difficulty we want him to explain is one he has recently met. The expert met it so long ago he has forgotten. He sees the whole subject, by now, in a different light that he cannot conceive what is really troubling the pupil; he sees a dozen other difficulties which ought to be troubling him but aren’t.”

The physics community would benefit a lot if there were more good textbooks, especially by young researchers who just understood the topic.

There can never been too many good explanations

Many people don't publish a textbook or scholarly papers, because there are already some written by authorities. The flaw behind this line of though is nicely summarized by the following comic:

Embrace Analogies

See: Surfaces and Essences by Douglas Hofstadter and Emmanuel Sander

Could anyone think… that they have always marched forward, one step after another, without having any clear idea of the goal they were trying to reach? It was necessary for them to guess at the proper route to get them there, and to do so they needed a guide. This guide is primarily analogy.Poincare

solutions/embrace_simplicity_clarity.txt · Last modified: 2017/12/16 06:00 by jakobadmin