Making complicated things seem simple involves abstracting over reality in such a way that is clear and actionable. Often times, that means reducing things down to one number going up or down. People are drawn to (fixated even) clarity of a single number going up or down.
For example, your weight captures a high degree of nuance at low fidelity—it could go up or down for a myriad reasons—but provides clarity in a way that tracking dozens of bio-metrics does not. If it starts to go up, you might look at it with concern, if it goes down, you might celebrate this as a victory.
We see this desire for one number everywhere. A stock price that grossly encapsulates a company’s value and the market’s psychology. The score in a baseball game indicates who is winning and who is losing. The Earth’s average temperature rising indicating catastrophic climate change.
- Trends are not explanations so drawing lines from a single number going up or down rarely leads to good predictions in the long run
- Another example of how convenience is king and elegance is a heuristic guide to truth
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People tend to think impressive results must come from impressively complicated means and effort. We underestimate the power of simple ideas and overestimate complications.