labyrinths and mazes

I thoroughly enjoyed Wilful Blindness by Margaret Heffernan: it was one of my most enjoyable non-fiction reads of late.

I liked this quote about complexity:

Why do we build institutions and corporations so large and so complex that we can’t see how they work? In part, it’s because we can. Human hubris makes us believe that if we can imagine something, we can build it; and if we can build it, we can understand it. We are so delighted with our own ingenuity and intelligence and it gives us a sense of mastery and power. But the power is problematic as it takes us further and further from the reality of what we have built. Like Daedalus, we build labyrinths of such cunning complexity that we cannot find our way out. And we are blind to the blindness these complex structures necessarily confer. So we forget all about it.

The word labyrinth stood out to me.

I have a tattoo of a labyrinth on my arm, and the reason I do so is my understanding of labyrinths is they are unicursal meaning they have a single path. Whilst labyrinths may appear complex from the outside it’s actually impossible to get lost in one, which is how I view life. Labyrinths are free from branching and dead ends, this is what differentiates them from mazes.

Labyrinth Tattoo

I double checked on Wikipedia to confirm my understanding:

In English, the term labyrinth is generally synonymous with maze. As a result of the long history of unicursal representation of the mythological Labyrinth, however, many contemporary scholars and enthusiasts observe a distinction between the two. In this specialized usage maze refers to a complex branching multicursal puzzle with choices of path and direction, while a unicursal labyrinth has only a single path to the center. A labyrinth in this sense has an unambiguous route to the center and back and is not difficult to navigate.

Turns out I am possibly a labyrinth enthusiast or contemporary scholar, and perhaps the book should have used maze instead.

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