Thursday, February 25, 2010

There Is a Problem of the Complexity of Evidentiary Minutiae in Litigation. What Is the Problem of the Complexity of Evidentiary Minutiae?

It is often said, in different contexts and for different purposes, that the phenomenon of a large amounts of evidentiary details in litigation presents a problem of complexity. But what is complexity?

Complexity is a complex concept. :-) In the the March 2010 edition of The Reasoner Alan Baker of Swarthmore writes:

There is no single, agreed upon definition of what it is to be complex, but rather a cluster of related notions covering both epistemological and ontological aspects of complexity. Of those most relevant to logic are definitions of algorithmic complexity arising from information theory, and applied to strings in some specified formal language. The best-established of this class of definitions is Kolmogorov complexity (KC). The KC of a string of binary digits is measured by the length of its shortest description. Thus the string “101010101010101010101010” can be (fully) described as “12 repetitions of ‘01”’, whereas the most efficient way to describe a disordered string such as “011000101011101101100010” may be to write down the entire string. One implication of the KC measure is that random strings have the highest complexity.
This understanding of the concept of complexity is to some degree (but only to some degree) not applicable to the problem of multitudes of evidentiary minutiae in litigation because what is often wanted is, not a shorthand way to sum up lots of details, but an effective way to bring to mind or keep in mind large amounts of evidentiary minutiae. (There is a good reason why we often want to keep evidentiary details and detailed arguments about such details alive in our minds. I may discuss that point at some other time.) Nonetheless, the information theorist's understanding of complexity is suggestive. It reminds us that a memorable way of classifying -- of quasi-summarizing -- details helps to keep large quantities of details in mind. (Random details are much, much harder to remember.)

Literal visualization of evidentiary details and of arguments from and about evidentiary details sometimes makes a direct attack on the problem of complexity because some types of visualization -- such as Timothy van Gelder's -- are designed to actually keep before the human mind (to some extent) the many details that need to be kept in mind -- to some degree. The emphasis here is in part on modes of representation that are easy to digest -- that are, in that sense, extraordinarily "user-friendly." (In an e-mail message Tim van G once called his method "extrospection." I like his neologism.)

Key point: The mind must be able to flit back and forth, easily and quickly, between different agglomerations of details and different parts (including "evidentiary atoms") of those agglomerations.


The dynamic evidence page

It's here: the law of evidence on Spindle Law. See also this post and this post.

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