2011-04-21 / Musings

Nothing about simplicity is black and white

“I ca’n’t believe that!” said Alice. “Ca’n’t you?” the Queen said in a pitying tone. “Try again: draw a long breath, and shut your eyes.” Alice laughed. “There’s no use trying,” she said: “ one ca’n’t believe impossible things.” “I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half- an- hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast....”

— Through the Looking- Glass and What Alice Found There, Lewis Carroll

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” — Leonardo da Vinci

“Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler.” — Albert Einstein

“A neoplasm is an abnormal mass of tissue, the growth of which exceeds and is uncoordinated with that of normal tissues and persists in the same excessive manner after the cessation of the stimulus which evoked the change.” — R. A. Willis, oncologist

Because they have white underbellies, it was previously believed that zebras were white animals with black stripes. Embryological research, however, has confirmed that zebras are really black animals with white stripes and bellies added.

There are many theories regarding the addition of these white stripes. Some cite theories of camouflage. Perhaps the stripes create visual non-recognition in non-zebras, from lions to tse-tse flies, as well as means of recognition by other zebras. Or perhaps the stripes coincide with and make visible underskin fat patterning useful in body temperature regulation.

And then there are the zebra wannabes, the so-called zonkeys or Tijuana donkeys. These animals are not zebras at all, but merely white donkeys that have been painted with black stripes. In this case one might hypothesize human motivation to achieve clarity in tourist photos.

The word zebra also has another, entirely different meaning. In medical parlance, zebra is a slang term that means an unlikely diagnosis. It comes from the dictum oft heard in medical school: “When you hear hoof beats, think horses, not zebras.” Another term used for an unusual or interesting case or diagnosis is fascinoma. This word was created by combining the word fascinating with the suffix-oma, which is used to describe many types of tumor growths.

Tumor, or neoplasm (new growth in Greek), the abnormal growth of body tissue, happens when the strict control of cell division is lost, and cells divide unnecessarily. Many hypotheses have been advanced for this appearance: chemical toxins, excessive alcohol or sunlight, genetics, obesity, viruses or radiation.

How can we simply function in a world that advances so many possible explanations, hypotheses, theories? Everything from zebra stripes to tumors and beyond can be analyzed and theorized, riddled and unriddled, balkanized, compartmentalized, autolyzed and alchemized. Do these interpretations illuminate or obfuscate, illustrate or terminate clarity? Are we looking through a kaleidoscopic fascinoma of neoplastic ideation?

Perhaps emergence from the Dark Ages was aided by the English Friar William’s proclamation of his theory, Occam’s Razor. This principle calls for selecting the hypothesis that requires the fewest new assumptions. We hear the rustling of an acronym: KISS — Keep it simple, stupid. Or perhaps that translates “Keep it simply stupid.” That would be the thrust of Hickam’s Dictum, another medical school favorite, the anti-razor, that reads: “Patients can have as many diseases as they damn well please.” Perhaps parsimony is not necessarily reality.

Do pirates posit unnecessary signs as necessarily meaningless? That seems impossible.

When was a KISS ever simple? When was excessive divisiveness remedy ever seemingly impassible?

If the whole of creation is radically contingent, it is clear that plurality must never be posited without necessity. ¦

— Rx is the FloridaWeekly muse who hopes to inspire profound mutiny in all those who care to read. Our Rx may be wearing a pirate cloak of invisibility, but emanating from within this shadow is hope that readers will feel free to respond. Who knows: You may even inspire the muse. Make contact if you dare.

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