Human mind can carry 7 ± 2 items of information in its short-term memory (Miller, 1956). A workable safe limit is ~ 5 straightforward variables, or 3 interacting feedback loops. Above this things begin to run together or be mixed up with each other.
A demand for simplicity is built into the human mind. We are too prone to try to find the one controlling factor in a complex situation.
The amount of information defining a biological system is vastly larger than the amount of information the human mind can handle simultaneously in its short-term memory. In such a situation the mind tends to simplify, linearise, and consider only a few of many variables that may be involved. This may be limiting when an experimenter interprets his/hers own experiments without help from modelling. Simulation forces its users to look at things that might not be examined in the course of more straightforward data interpretation (Garfinkel, 1980).
Garfinkel D. Computer modeling, complex biological systems, and their simplifications. Am J Physiol. 1980; 239: R1-R6.
Miller G.A. The magical number Seven, plus or minus two: some limits on our capacity for processing information. Psychol Rev. 1956; 63:81-97.
Updated at: 2014-01-29
Created at: 2011-11-22
Written by: Vesa Oikonen