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Keep it simple, stupid

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Einstein’s most famous equation can fit on a T-shirt

By Kirsten Peters

At every level, we humans have a natural drive to understand the world around us. We try to understand people and the economy (with little success), and we try to understand the natural world around us (with more and more success over time).

It’s easy to be puzzled about why we humans are so successful in understanding the physical world. At the level of recognizing a tiger and knowing to run away from one, it’s no surprise why we’re good at understanding Mother Nature. Evolution would weed out those who have trouble grasping the predator-prey relationship. But, at the same time, there’s no clear evolutionary reason we can see that people who are good with very abstract reasoning (like Einstein and other physicists) would spring up and do so very well at their labors.

To put it another way, why can we calculate the mass of an electron or do a thousand and one other tasks that are routine in research science and engineering?

Even if basic problem-solving is a hallmark of modern Homo sapiens, we are remarkably good at it at a level that’s astounding – yet we don’t know why we are suited to abstractions.

And the conundrum gets deeper, the more we think about it.