Department of Design

October 23rd, 2012

In an attempt to explain how humans perceive relevance, Cognitive complexity is defined as an extension of the notion of Kolmogorov complexity. It amounts to the length of the shortest description available to the observer. Here is an example : Individuating a particular Inuit woman among one hundred people is simpler in a village in Congo rather than in an Inuit village.

Cognitive complexity is related to probability (see Simplicity theory): situation are cognitively improbable if they are simpler to describe than to generate. Human individuals attach two complexity values to events:

description complexity (see above definition) generation complexity: the size of the minimum set of parameter values than the ‘world’ (as imagined by the observer) needs to generate the event. To ‘generate’ an event such as an encounter with an Inuit woman in Congo, one must add up the complexity of each event in the causal chain that brought her there. The significant gap between both complexities (hard to produce, easy to describe) makes the encounter improbable and thus narratable.

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