As an actuary, you probably grew up with that famous quote of Einstein:
Everything Should Be Made as Simple as Possible,
But Not Simpler.
However, as 'Quote Investigator' shows, there is no direct evidence that Einstein crafted this aphorism...
Hmmmm.... Never mind.... as this quote is clearly redundant and therefore can be simplified....
So, it's enough to stick to the subjective concept of 'keep it simple'.....
'Simple', simply means 'easy to understand'.
If we would try to present or explain something 'too simple', we are in fact making it harder to understand and therefore 'more complicated'.
ExampleIf we try to explain that we can estimate the area of a circle (approx. 3.14159...; radius=1) in practice by a n-sided polygon, a three year old child ;-) will buy your simplification in case of a 12-sided polygon.
Oversimplified, or Worse: Desimplified
In case of a square (4-sided polygon), he'll probably raise his eyebrow, as you oversimplified the topic. And in case of a triangle you'll probably have lost him completely. You desimplified and thereby complicated your case to the opposite of what you untended : a clear understanding.
Keep in mind that, like in the case above, you must develop a criterion when you simplify things. In the above example, a criterion could (e,g) be that the area of the polygon shouldn't differ more than 10% of the original circle and must have a relative simple (round) answer. This criterion would lead to a 12-sided polygon as an adequate simplification example.
And of course, we have to test this ex-ante 12-sided criterion in practice by means of a questionnaire.
Simplification is Complicated
However, 'simplification' as process, is not simple at all. In practice simplification can be used to reduce things that are:
- complicated (not simple, but knowable) or
- complex (not simple and never fully knowable)
Let's finish with an excellent example of a need for simplification :
Simplifying 'Complexity of financial regulation'
In an excellent presentation, Executive Director Financial Stability of the Bank of England, Andrew Haldane, pleas and argues to simplify financial regulation.
It turns out that the growing number of regulation rules and principles (e.g. Basel III) has an adverse effect on taming the crisis.
Also the traditional Merton-Markowitz approach that assumes a known probability distribution for future market risk and enables portfolio risk to be calculated and thereby priced and hedged, offers no help to solve the current crisis.
Haldane concludes that "More simple regulation based on 'Optimal choice under uncertainty' is necessarily. Haldane concludes:
"Modern finance is complex, perhaps too complex. Regulation of modern finance is complex, almost certainly too complex. That configuration spells trouble.
As you do not fight fire with fire, you do not fight complexity with complexity. Because complexity generates uncertainty, not risk, it requires a regulatory response grounded in simplicity, not complexity.
Delivering that would require an about-turn from the regulatory community from the path followed for the better part of the past 50 years. If a once-in-a-lifetime crisis is not able to deliver that change, it is not clear what will.
To ask today’s regulators to save us from tomorrow’s crisis using yesterday’s toolbox is to ask a border collie to catch a frisbee by first applying Newton’s Law of Gravity."
Haldane's (2012) presentation called 'Ensuring Long-Term Financial Stability', or more popular 'The dog and the frisbee', is a breakthrough in managing, modeling and controlling Risk and financial future results. It's a MUST read for actuaries and board members in the financial industry.
From now in, actuaries can simply start 'helping' as a border collie!
- BOE Presentatie Andrew Haldan
- Risk models must be torn up
- Mathematica: Play with Polygons
- Einstein's Simple Quote Investigated
- Complex versus Complicated
- Complicated vs complex vs chaotic
- Simplicity a new model