I often define depth as 'sensitivity to complexity,' or what Keats terms 'negative capability.' It's a theme I'll return to again and again, because there's such a bias in conventional thought that the most profound truths are simple.
But why would you say that about human beings, when you wouldn't dream of saying it about space travel?
Yes, space travel.
I make this weird comparison because space travel is the most high complexity technical system we have. And human life is even more complex than that.
Take the Grant Study for example, an extraordinary longitudinal experiment that followed a group of 268 promising Harvard students from 1930 until they died. Their lives turned out to be utterly beyond prediction.
As one NYT columnist said in this article, "There is a complexity to human affairs before which science and analysis simply stands mute."
A good analogy is a PIN number. Just four digits and you can create millions of combinations that a supercomputer couldn't crack. But there are many more than four elements in the make up of a person – like background, physicality, temperament and random experiences.
Societies and economies are even bigger PIN numbers as they combine millions of hugely complex individuals. This is why stock markets, and history itself, is non-predictable.
But that's not all. A ball rolling down a hill has many forces acting on it, and yet science can tease out its basic course by separating and simplifying them all, then adding it back together.
This works well on the physical world, but human nature has the added dimension of free-will. There is a mysterious gap between cause and consequence in human actions that does not exist in the natural world. It's a gap for which, as yet, we have found no tools to investigate.
And it's this mysterious gap that defines human nature, and which I want to explore.
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