Posted by: piersdy | April 17, 2013

Boiling Down

I once worked for a few weeks in a shoe shop, and a colleague I got tboiling downo know was called John Smith – or was it Brown? – it was 1971.

We used to talk about meaningful stuff and one day he asked me ‘Do you think that life is complicated and we make it simple, or basically simple and we make it complicated?’ I said I thought the latter, and that view had followed me down the years.

I got in to Oxford university by some fluke and enjoyed the education. It taught me to think in certain ways, including a reductionist approach – what does that boil down to? That has also followed me for decades, and sometimes I observe my thinking and wonder if it is always helpful.

Why did he behave like that? Why am I reductionist? Does it boil down to my education, or am I also conditioned by western thinking, that every problem has a simple answer (if we have the technology, or the money…)?

I reckon that I can only hold a few ideas in my head at once , so if I want to know how to be a better Christian, it helps to try and focus on something simple, such as ‘check your spirit’ or ‘pray about it’, or ‘slow down’.

Of course it risks over-simplification of situations or explanations, but it can help me to see the wood for the trees.

Let’s try it: Was Margaret Thatcher ‘a good thing’? Ah, my reductionism produces the answer ‘Very few things in politics are black and white, so there isn’t a clear answer to that’.

Or: What makes Christian community work well? It has to be love, but that needs defining (or unpacking as they say). Does love boil down to unselfishness in practise? OK but I then reflect that the way that community is set up is also vital, and that depends on a bit more than love alone (though maybe all systems would be ideal if created by people full of love). So I’ve really said that community works best if at least two ingredients are right – love and the set-up.

So I like to start with a premise of one root explanation and then if that does not seem enough add more. 1+1 is easier than 13×2.6.

One more: Have we mucked up the climate on earth by our activity?
I just did a little research, including the Watts up with that site (sceptic), wikipedia, and
On balance yes we have. I boiled down CO2 charts and global temperature charts from multiple sources. For all the debates about factors and analysis, the trend looks pretty clear. Some things are easier to boil down than others; best not to opine if homework is needed first.

Oh and is life basically simple and we make it complicated? Or is life simple and we add a lot of noise and conclude that you can’t boil it down? I still think the first is true. We work, eat, have children, run societies, screw up. We fell out with God and he gave his Son to make a way back, if we believe it.
Simple enough.


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