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Tales from the Woods - Oversimplification

In a world where we are inundated with information, there is a tendency to try and simplify this data to an almost meaningless level and then make decisions based on this … often with unintended consequences.

“The third-rate mind is only happy when it is thinking with the majority. The second-rate mind is only happy when it is thinking with the minority. The first-rate mind is only happy when it is thinking."

A A Milne

It was just an ordinary day in the woods. Owl was sitting in his tree being wise, Tigger was having a wonderful bounce and being all tiggery,and Pooh was sitting on a log eating hunny. This was Pooh’s number one favourite thing to do … and probably his second and third favourite as well.

Pooh was thinking.

That simple sentence deserved the paragraph status I gave it. Stuffed animals with fluff in their ears are not renowned thinkers. More to the point, sitting, eating hunnyand thinking was probably one ‘task’ too‘multi’ for Pooh to cope with. This would account for the large smears of hunnyon Pooh’s chin where he had been momentarily distracted and missed his mouth.

Pooh was thinking deep thoughts … and, as a consequence, wasting quite a lot of hunny. Pooh was thinking about thinking. He knew it was something that he didn’t do enough of but sometimes, when his head was all wobbly, the thoughts just wouldn’t come out straight. Thinking is difficult and sometimes the best thing to do is avoid difficult things.

Tigger didn’t have time to think. He was too busy doing things to mess about with thoughts and stuff. “Just give me the facts.” said Tigger, to anyone who would listen.

“That’s too much information, keep it short and sweet.” Tigger was not a fan of detail.

Tigger liked to shoot from the hip. The problem with shooting from the hip (a notoriously inaccurate way of shooting) while simultaneously bouncing around is that you rarely hit the target. Tigger did hit the target, once, purely by chance, and he liked to remember that occasion and tell everybody about it as often as he could.

Tigger had a friend, Sid the visually impaired squirrel, whose ability to locate acorns was remarkable considering the circumstances. Owlwould liken Tigger to Sid on many occasions. His favourite saying was that ‘even a blind squirrel finds the occasional nut.’ The significanceof this was lost on Tigger who was always too busy to listen to others. Tigger also liked to avoid having make decisions.

Tigger believed that if you can’t reduce a problem to a page of writingthen you do not understand the problem. Pooh believed that some thingsare more complicated than some others. Sometimes making a problem seem simple just means that you are lying about the problem.

Owl had tried to explain the fallacy of oversimplification to Pooh.

“Oversimplification is when a contributing factor is assumed to be the cause, or when a complex array of causal factors is reduced to a single cause. It is a form of simplistic thinking that implies something is either a cause, orit is not. It overlooks the important fact that, especially when referring to human behaviour, causes are very complex and multi-dimensional.” explained Owl.

Pooh, a Bear of Very Little Brain, was struggling with the big words. Owl tried to put it into context for Pooh.

“Ok Pooh, consider these two statements: ‘eating too much honey contributes to making you fat,’ and, ‘bears have been eating more honey in the last few decades.’ Therefore, ‘the rise in obesity can be fixed by bears eating less honey.’

“This is an oversimplification, Pooh.” explained Owl. “We made the leap from ‘contributes’ to ‘can be fixed.’ At best, we can conclude that the problem of obesity can be mitigated by bears eating less honey.”

Pooh was uncomfortable with the thought of eating less honey. Pooh tried to think of his own example.

“He who makes no decisions makes no mistakes and he who makes no mistakes gets promoted. Therefore, to get promoted make no decisions.” offered Pooh.

Owl was not sure whether this was a logical fallacy but, in the case of Tigger, it had the ring of truth to it.

“No brain at all, some of them [people], only grey fluff that's blown into their heads by mistake, and they don't Think.”

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