Navigation bar--use text links at bottom of page.

Simplicity vs. Complexity in Diet:
Where Do We Find Truth?

by Ward Nicholson
Copyright © 2000 by Ward Nicholson. All rights reserved.
Contact author for permission to republish.

"It will surprise you when shown the truth thru a simple, natural enlightenment, and you must admit at once that it is THE TRUTH. Always remember this fact: 'Whatever cannot be seen, conceived at once, thru simple reasoning is humbug, and not science!' "
--Arnold Ehret, popular raw-food proponent of the early 1900s...

...who among other things maintained that the lungs were
the organs responsible for pumping blood--powered by outside
atmospheric air pressure--and the heart only a valve.

Quote from Arnold Ehret's Mucusless Diet Healing System,
first published 1922, 16th Ed. (Feb. 1972), p. 54.

"...there is always an easy solution to every human
problem--neat, plausible, and wrong."

--Henry Louis Mencken (1880-1956)
A Mencken Chrestomathy, 1949, p. 443,
in "The Divine Afflatus" (as revised by Mencken).

"God is in the details."

--Ultimate origin unknown, though sometimes attributed
to Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880).

T A B L E   O F   C O N T E N T S


ONE OFTEN HEARS IT ASSERTED that the truth should be simple enough that anyone could recognize it. As a common sentiment among those with lofty dietary ideals, it has become something of a watchword. A consequent criticism of the kinds of issues and research that are considered in detail on skeptical sites like is that the truth doesn't need to involve such complexities. That it "shouldn't have to be [or can't be] that complex."

The "simple truth" might be more complex than you think. Aside from the fact that people often actually don't recognize simplicity when they see it if it's too different from the way they're already used to thinking about things, there are a number of problems and contradictions within the above viewpoint as commonly encountered. The first of which is that clearly, actually, if one observes the ongoing conversations about dietary issues on email lists and web BBS's devoted to dietary ideals like rawism or veganism or any other such foodism, nobody likes to talk so endlessly in detail about food issues as such individuals do. The only real difference is just that much of the time such discussion is characterized by detail other than scientific or research-based detail. But detail is still detail, and the complexities that inevitably come up are still complexities.

Is complexity itself what
really bothers us so much?

The kind of behavior one can observe around the idea that the truth always should be simple suggests, I think, something different. Often implicit--or even explicit--in the reactions heard in response to the issues discussed on this site for example, after someone has read through some of it, is that now the person isn't sure they know what the truth is anymore. This is seen as a very bad thing to be remedied forthwith, because now they are not certain anymore and THAT'S NOT GOOD.

Uncertainty is the real issue we have the most difficulties with. In actuality, it's not the complexities that bother people so much as the uncertainties introduced when one goes beyond a simplistic viewpoint. It's the unsettling consideration that "maybe I don't or can't know as much of this for sure as I thought," rather than complexity, that stirs up the actual reactions and reluctance to delve into thinking about many of the types of dietary and health issues that get coverage on sites like this one. Adopting a stance of unbending ideological simplicity, rather than being a tool that cuts through unnecessary or irrelevant complexity, instead functions as a shield against feelings of uncertainty and having to confront those uncertainties directly in oneself.

Uncertainty vs. emotional comfort. Of course--and this is why the difficulty--such uncertainties are almost always emotionally uncomfortable to look at, because they also involve questions about what we can and can't be certain of in life in general. Unfortunately, though, the truth is not always something we can know as soon as we want to know it. And we may not even be able to accept it if we believe it has to gibe with the only kinds of simplicities our present worldview can make room for.

The flat earth of too-simple views. That the earth goes around the sun or that the earth is round/spherical was not known for many centuries. Yet most people were certain in their simplistic assumptions that things were otherwise. Of course, one can't fault the people at that time for believing as they did--until science provided it, there wasn't the evidence available to really suggest anything different. But that's just the point: it was science, with its interest in the details and complexities, that led the way to the new realization. The truth turned out to be more complex, the universe and the heavens more pregnant with "astronomical" detail, than most people could have imagined.

Yet at the same time, the ideas that the earth is round and goes around the sun are just about as simple to understand as the opposing ideas. They do, however, introduce complexities in how one is required to view the rest of the solar system and the nature of the universe to make room and account for the new observations. Simplicity on one level, therefore, often goes hand in hand with whatever level of accompanying complexity on another, like yin and yang, or the two sides of a coin.

Simplicity, complexity, and the hierarchy of detail. The real world is often not so simple as it first appears. How simple something is, in fact, depends to a considerable degree on what level of the hierarchy of features and details it displays that you look at. If you only look at the surface, or only just beneath it, then things may look very simple. Look harder, more deeply, and you then have to consider what may seem to be inconvenient or pesky details--"the messy realities," so to speak. They are inconvenient, though, only if you aren't interested in a deeper understanding, if you have some preconceived belief or have adopted the mantra that things have to always remain simple or else they are bogus and not truth.

Simplicity is thus a function of the perceiver as well as the perceived. Our human minds and their capability for high levels of abstraction enable us to perceive more unified conceptual groupings on one level if we temporarily relax our focus from the complexities at other levels. And as long as we remain aware that hierarchical levels of increasing complexity exist that may end up being just as relevant, such simplification can be a powerful tool in enabling us to grasp unifying principles. That's the upside.

The downside is that we are also capable of manufacturing fictitious simplicities that then have to be supported by unacknowledged or covert complexities at other levels we remain unconscious of. Either way, there is no escaping a certain amount of complexity on one level or another. It's inherent in the structure of things. The real question is whether you are conscious of the processes involved, or remain unaware of them.


(The Hidden Complexity in Simple Dietary Idealism)

Back to Psychology of Idealistic Diets
Back to Edible Editorials

   Beyond Veg home   |   Feedback   |   Links