Simple or Complex: A Universal Approach

Alejandra Miranda
4 min readJan 30, 2020


To put it simply, complexity is a wonderful thing. Not only because it involves diversity, but also because it is indispensable. Don’t believe me? Well, just look your surroundings. Everything you see overflows in details that serve as a testament to this quality. After all, it is thanks to complex factors that we can account for greater sophistication in an otherwise simplistic framework.

However, there’s a problem with complexity. If left unchained and unchecked, it turns out to be wasteful and increasingly incomprehensible. One only needs to take a look at undergrad academic papers to see what I mean. Sure, you could argue that there’s a certain beauty in unbridled structures, but said aspect doesn’t equate utility. Plus if you really think about it, besides being impractical, too much complexity is unbearable. It is just “too complex”. Thus, unless reined back and constrained, complexity becomes dysfunctional.

But is there something capable of regulating complexity?

Although an abstract something, simplicity seems to be that one qualified for this job. And it’s easy to see why. Simplification compresses useful information to make its comprehension effortless and quick, just as it presents the possibility of asynchronous applications. That is to say, it reduces the time and energy necessary to absorb and employ information. A trait particularly essential when too much meaning and sophistication are crammed into the most elaborate dimensions, such as time and space.

Yet, in order to be constructive and long-lasting, simplified information must have a high content of truth, for this allows its accessibility as the amount of viability it enacts upon objects multiplies. And the essence of said truth should, ideally, be enhanced by zooming in on the core features of any system.

So, enter the Universe.

It is only natural to assume that the Universe is a complex construct. Galaxies, stars, celestial bodies and even life itself vouch in favour of this case. However, when we look into fundamental principles governing these fascinating structures, we begin to notice certain patterns that follow up. Humanly, we refer to them as the laws of physics and these, besides being objective, are defined by simplicity. Of course, to a non-physicist this seems far from the truth, given the required knowledge to adequately understand the laws of physics. But it’s rather astonishing that, through science, we have been able to reveal complicated matters to the extent of making them intelligible through straightforward numbers and symbols.

Nevertheless, the laws we have come up with only acknowledge the how of the occurrence without providing much of a reasoning for the outcomes. In other words, we know how things happen (for the most part), but we can’t explain why they come out the way they do.

Let’s take a star as an example. Its formation begins when the denser parts of a cloud’s nucleus collapse under their own weight and gravity. As the core subsides, it gets fragmented into clumps, which are responsible for the development of a protostar. And from the evolution of said protostar we acquire our final product: a shiny, new stellar body. But the resulting star is one that can’t be predicted. It can have any shape, size and even colour.

What does this tell us then?

A simple thing really:

Although the Universe structures itself in a seemingly simplistic-fashion, the way in which said simplicity gets expressed is random and, as a consequence, complex.

When we look around us, we don’t observe the laws of physics; rather we see the outcomes of said laws. A crucial distinction, given that effects are more complicated than the causes which govern them. Therefore, results don’t have to respect the principles displayed by the laws. Instead, through subtle interplay, unlimited quantities of complex structures become possible in spite of the simplistic coding they rely on.

But what about the Universe? Is it simple or complex?

That depends on how you look at the question and the way in which you decide to answer, for solid arguments can be found in both sides. Yes, the Universe is complex if you consider that the structures found within it make it so. And yes, the Universe is simple if you regard its principles as the real universal essence.

But having separate assertions doesn’t help much. Does it? Only more confusion arises by establishing opposition in a matter that is meant to be understood in duality. So, to spare us the hassle, could we join both ideas?

Linguistically-speaking, yes. We might say that the Universe is either complexly simple or simply complex, depending on the narrative that suits our interest. Yet, it’d prefer bringing into play broader and more neutral vocabulary, if you may.

Ergo, I’d say the Universe is a structured disorder. Or a system where genuine simplicity is the defining factor for the beauty of its expression and the grandeur behind its scope.

Photograph of the star formation region Lupus 3.



Alejandra Miranda

Spreading words with a sprinkle of fairy dust and, arguably, some science.