A great insight in one sentence seems obvious, no matter how much of history how many people have spent not coming up with it. The same insight alluded to and digressed from for hours on end seems like a fantastic mountain of understanding. Why is this? I think Paul Gowder’s explanation for people liking bad books probably extends to partially explain:
Why do people read bad books…[and] why do so many…end up praising them? …
1. The sunk cost fallacy. You get fifty, a hundred pages into Atlas Shrugged or something and you’ve bled so much — you’ve invested so much into getting through this book, tortured yourself with so much bad writing and so many stupid ideas! How horrible would it be to waste all that effort! Better grind on and finish. Or so we tell ourselves. Because we’re irrational.
2. Cognitive dissonance. You’ve read all of Of Grammatology! Holy shit that was unpleasant…You’re not sure whether you actually learned anything enlightening, or whether old Jacques was just spitting jive. But wait! You’re a rational person! You’d be a fool if you’d spent a hundred hours and endless tears trying to make sense of that stuff and it turned out to be nonsense. Therefore, it must be very wise and you should defend it and demand others read it! Or so we tell ourselves. Because we’re irrational.
Hat tip to Mike Blume. I’ll add:
3. Less concise works can easily be designed to cheat quality heuristics. You are always better off guessing whether a work was good or bad than admitting you didn’t understand it well and can’t remember most of it, because that does not distinguish you from the stupid people who didn’t understand or remember it because they don’t understand or remember anything. If you are going to guess, you use heuristics. Many of the same things that make writing less comprehensible also lead people to guess it is insightful: complexity, length, difficult words. If you can’t follow well enough to confidently compress it into the one sentence version you would have thought obvious, you will likely guess that it contains more than one sentence worth of interesting content.