Last night, several of us at YOW were discussing professional secrets, inaccuracies and omissions that are corrected via apprenticeship but rarely in writing. We were arguing over whether these secrets were the result of conspiracy or laziness. Do people deliberately conceal information to keep the uninitiated from really knowing what’s going on, or do they wave their hands because being precise takes too much energy?
I argued for the latter, a sort of variation on Hanlon’s razor: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity. In this case, I didn’t want to attribute to conspiracy what could adequately be explained by laziness. Sins of omission are more common than sins of comission.
Brian Beckman’s comment on Hanlon’s razor was that there is a sort of quantum superposition of malice and stupidity. That is, you have some indeterminate mixture of malice and stupidity (or in the context of our conversation, conspiracy and laziness) that leads to the same results. This closely resembles Grey’s law that any sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice. Being a physicist, Brian used a physical metaphor. He commented later that it may be possible in retrospect to determine whether some action was malicious or stupid, collapsing a sort of wave function.
Related post: Hanlon’s razor and corporations