In this context, does "impossibly complex" mean "utterly simple" or "without any complexity"?

Much like the current attitude toward the Balkans that brands it as impossibly complex and utterly simple at once, Macedonian discourse of pathology was also logically inconsistent.

(From Understanding Life in the Borderlands: Boundaries in Depth and in Motion, p 166.)

  • Another cue to the fact that Phil and user3169 have both answered correctly is the following pair of words, "at once" - the author is saying that both halves of the preceding clause are considered to be true at the same time, even though they oppose one another. Commented May 14, 2014 at 21:55

4 Answers 4


"Impossibly complex" means "so complicated that true understanding is impossible". The phrases "utterly simple" and "without any complexity" can be considered antonyms of "impossibly complex".

I believe, based on a quick look at the text, that the author of your example is discussing the attitudes previous ethnographers took when analyzing the Balkans. The author is contrasting the extremes of "impossibly complex" with "utterly simple". Despite the fact that the Balkans are very complex in many ways starting with geography previous ethnographers have been able to assign detailed racial judgments and distinctions about the people living there even though the same people could not make the distinction themselves.

  • 1
    If I understand the paragraph "intermingling of races" in the text correctly, I think it was the ethnographers who found the task impossible (so it's "impossibly complex"). But everyone there (the Balkans), except for the inhabitants of Macedonia, were able to assign a nationality to each community just fine (so it's "utterly simple"). Some even assigned nationalities to dogs, according to the text. Commented May 14, 2014 at 19:37
  • @DamkerngT. Ahh, I got it backwards. Thanks for the input. :)
    – Phil
    Commented May 14, 2014 at 20:15

impossibly complex

here means that the subject matter (attitudes toward the Balkans) is so complex that it is impossible to solve/resolve/figure out etc.

The use of "utterly simple" (so simple anyone could understand it or figure it out) is a contasting point to "impossibly complex" as they are opposites.


I always felt it was an interplay of the fact that something that is complex is often associated with the conceptual - ie complexity is something associated with the minds perception of interplay of understanding of facets. Things just are, complexity is something we attribute to them through our understanding.

impossibly complex would transcend complexity to the point where the mind is incapable of comprehending

The use of the words simple and complex in the context of a 'logical contradiction' implies some kind of philosophical influence in my opinion - and could also be interpreted to also reflect what i was saying above. Simple and complex (or composite) are heavily laden words in a philosophical context.


"Impossibly complex" means "so complex as to be impossible to understand".

The author is arguing that a certain line of thinking (the "Macedonian discourse of pathology") was as logically inconsistent as simultaneously ("at once") believing (as some do of the Balkans) something is both "impossibly complex" and "utterly simple".

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