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Overcomplicating Simple Things: Critical Thinking Red Flags Part 4

Andrew Badham 2023-05-30 11:41:41

a heavily overengineered lightbulb

In the last installment of our misinformation identification series, we looked at the red flag of making complicated things seem too simple. In this article, we’re going to be looking at the exact opposite, people who overcomplicate simple things.

In our previous article, we mentioned that, in almost every subject, there is an overwhelming depth of complexity. So, it feels slightly contradictory to now say that you can overcomplicate anything. But hear me out; both ideas can be true at the same time.

Simple Principles in Complex Things

Complicated things can still have simple overarching principles. For example, when it comes to weightloss, there are a number of factors to consider. We could look at how the fibre, protein, carbohydrate, and fat ratios in a person’s diet affect appetite and the thermic effect of food. We could look at the impact of exercise types, timing, intensity and duration. We look at how various hormones affect energy expenditure. We could even look at psychological factors that impact behavioural patterns of consumption. There are just so many factors that could impact a person’s body composition.

Nevertheless, amidst all of this complexity you can still find simple principles. No matter how many factors impact this equation, if an individual consumes less energy than their body is currently burning, they will lose weight. Does that idea undermine or negate any of the complexity I just mentioned? No, it encapsulates it. All of the genetic and lifestyle factors affect how much you consume and how much you burn, but the simple principle remains true.

Examples of Overcomplication

Now, imagine you’re scrolling through social media, and you see someone saying,a dodgyonline fitness trainer

“If you don’t know your specific metabolic type, it doesn’t matter how little you eat, you will never lose weight. You need to do my online quiz to find out your metabolic type, and then follow my detailed exercise guide and meal plan tailored to your results. If you don’t do the right combination of exercise and nutrition, you just won’t lose weight.”

that should immediately trigger alarm bells. They are overcomplicating that the simple principle of consume less and expend more. In this example, the motive is clear, they need to overcomplicate the issue in order to sell their services. So, having that alarm bell go off in your head could stop you buying something you don’t need.

When added Complexity is Okay

Now, does that mean that there is no value in adding complexity? Of course not. If you hired a personal trainer and they recommended that you eat more on your heavy exercise days and less on your off days, that might sound like he’s adding unnecessary complexity. But if their rationale is that this will be an easier way to keep your overall calories down, we can see that they are still aligned to this simple principle.

So, to sum up: if someone is presenting a complicated solution to what seems like a simple problem, that should throw up a red flag. Then once, your scepticism is piqued, look closer to see if their ideas still align with the overarching simple principle. If they do, you might decide this person is a credible source; if they don’t — well, maybe you should stay sceptical.