What is simplicity? Not something narrowing, or closed. In the context of multiplicity, abundance, a full universe, what do we mean by looking for what is simple, longing for the simple? Is it elegance: like the use of Occam’s razor say – a direct route? Or is it to do with leaving behind that which is not needed, with paring back? Is this what simplicity is?
Thinking about this, feeling uncertain, I took the step of looking up the word in a beloved dictionary of word origins.
The word ‘simple’, it turns out, is not itself without complexity. It comes from root words meaning ‘same’ and ‘fold’ (‘ply’). And the meaning is described in the dictionary as “not multifarious”. Sameness runs through the word then, linking simplicity it to the idea of unity: perhaps we can understand that the underlying meaning of ‘simple’ has to do with unity in multiplicity.
But to me, the loveliness of the word is in the surprise of the element ‘ply’, which the dictionary says comes from the latin ‘plicare’ (or ‘fold’): this is the part of the word that pleases, touches the heart. This is because I feel this word, this folding action, in my hands – and that means that this word carries inside itself a way of thinking with the hands.
Imagine folding clothes or sheets, or a sheet of paper or putting a letter in an envelope.
And then, notice too that the words multiplicity, complicated, and implicated are also built around this word root ‘ply’. How wonderful.