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Occam's Razor

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posted on Mar, 24 2010 @ 11:49 AM
I would like to discuss Occam's Razor with all of you. I've wanted to make this thread for a while. There's an issue with the way people use it, and oftentimes, even the way they phrase it.

This thread, I suppose, is primarily aimed at the skeptics. I, too, am a skeptic, so don't think I'm doing that thing. I'm trying to strengthen our arguments is all.

So let's begin with the razor itself.

There are many ways of phrasing Occam's Razor. Only two of spelling it; You may have learned it as Ockham's Razor. Ockham is the city of residence -- and, by 14th century standards, a part of the name -- of the man to whom the razor is attributed: William of Ockham. His phrasing, translated into the modern, is essentially:

1) Entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity.

To those of you who aren't philosophy majors, bearers of philosophy degrees, or haven't been on debate teams, this might be a cloudy phrasing. Not necessarily, of course, but it might be. The more common phrasing is

2) If all other things are equal, the simplest theory is the most likely.

Other phrasings include:

3) The simplest answer is usually the correct answer.
4) The simplest explanation that covers all the facts is usually the best.
5) Leonardo Da Vinci's version: Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.
6) Isaac Newton's: We are to admit no more causes of natural things than such as are both true and sufficient to explain their appearances.
7) Albert Einstein's: Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler.

My personal favorite is number 1, mostly because I've always wanted to contradict it with a "go forth and multiply!" joke. But intellectually, number 7 is my favorite; it says exactly what is meant.

But the way that most people at least seem to conceptualize it is

3a) The simplest theory is the correct one.

If you think of it this way, you might not even realize that you're thinking of it this way; I, for a long time, didn't notice. Now, it's quite clear that this is a misinterpretation. So let's jump back a little bit to a more reasonable one, which is the one I'd really like to discuss.

2a) All other aspects of the two being equal, the simplest of two theories is the correct one.

This is probably the usage with the highest index of frequency-of-use and respect-of-application. But it's a deeply flawed formulation. A theory's correctness can not be determined by its simplicity, only its likelihood of correctness.

A more serious problem, though, is the application of this thought. Occam's Razor comes up all the time here, and well it should. But in most instances that I have seen, it is treated wrong. Occam's razor is treated, in my experience, as:

1) A hard and fast law
2) A test

Occam's Razor, properly applied, is none of these things. Occam's Razor is most properly:

3) A rule of thumb for formations of belief
4) A non-decisive element of arguments.

A rule of thumb is, for those who don't know, a rule that you give to yourself which you will tend to follow in making your decisions, but under certain circumstances it is actually best not to follow. In the words of Captain Jack Sparrow... It's more of a guideline, really.

What do I mean by "non-decisive" though? I mean that it should underdetermine the conclusion. This is even more obscure, I suppose. I just mean that it should not be used on its own; it is an element of why something should be believed, but has almost no force of convincing.

Ultimately, this post is a plea. Before you go about applying Occam's Razor everywhere, shaving off entities... Make sure you're doing it right. It's a very sharp tool, and a very useful one. But in arguments, sometimes we don't want to be shaving; sometimes, to extend the metaphor past its breaking point, an argument/debate/discussion is carpentry, not hygiene, and bringing a razor in is a mistake.

Edited to add that I suspect that I put this in the wrong subforum... I'm not sure where else it could go, but I feel it should definitely stay on ATS and not be moved to BTS. If a mod could move it to where it's most appropriate, if that's not this one... I'd be grateful.

[edit on 24-3-2010 by Solasis]

posted on Mar, 24 2010 @ 12:00 PM
if everyone else does it one way and your doing it the other way

heres a surprise: YOUR DOING IT WRONG!

just saying that culture dictates the use of language in context and popular saying are determined by a mandate from the people.

such as "Grand Theft Auto is a SICK game!!!"
sick as in great, not sick as in it needs treatment or a doctor

I think your missing out on the common sense of the use of language that supercedes all other factors you mentioned which are quite frankly hogwash.

posted on Mar, 24 2010 @ 12:02 PM
reply to post by tigpoppa

Woah woah woah woah. What are you on about? I am not talking about the use of language. I am talking about a principle of thought.

I don't normally do this, but with your massively ignorant treatment of my post, I feel like I ought to...

The common use of language dictates that you're doing it wrokng :p

[edit on 24-3-2010 by Solasis]

posted on Mar, 24 2010 @ 01:27 PM
Occam's Razor was one of 2 personal tools I used to find the truth. It saved me from reading 100,000 pages of total bull from all those "experts" and "studied people". You are doing it right if you use it in the way you described: "The simplest theory is the correct one."

The second was "Everybody has to be able to find the truth - doesn't matter how intelligent he/she is" and that is true.

Someone gave me a 3. tool on the way: "It is always right in front of your eyes."

Here's a 4. tool for you: Slow down and observe your reality.

Now find it. Or should I say ... "now get it"?



posted on Mar, 24 2010 @ 01:53 PM

Originally posted by tigpoppa
if everyone else does it one way and your doing it the other way

heres a surprise: YOUR DOING IT WRONG!

Colloquial interpretation is indeed valid in some cases.

However, Ockham's Razor has been colloquially used to state, as the thread author has suggested, a certainty. This is fallacious reasoning as it is an attempt to apply a static outcome to unrelated circumstances...and as well assumes that everyone in every circumstance is drawing upon the exact same set of experiences and interpretation of experience.

Each circumstance/event has different factors to employ and one of them is the perceptive state of an individual. A physicist and a theologian are going to have a different set of perceptions to draw using empirical measurement, the other intuitive resonings (not to apply a general statement here but to use a somewhat logically crass example).

Ockham's Razor is meant as a reminder when considering the unique factors of an event/idea/et cetera. It is not a conclusion.

posted on Mar, 24 2010 @ 02:13 PM
I love Occams Razor, best shave ever! lol

No in all seriousness it is a theory that is applied WAY too often to justfy ones thoughts. Like formal logic, anything can be deduced to satisfy a given theory. The best example I have using Occams razor is when I was an economics student. Here the theory is paraphrased as "Holding all else constant." By using this theory I was able to successfully correlate the relationship between crime rates and unemployment. After applying the theory I discovered that as unemployment rises, Violent crime decreases while Property crime increases. The opposite is true when the unemployment rate goes down. Obviously the connection between the two has many more complex explanations, but the use of Occams Razor let me simplify those outliers by simply stating that 'this' will happen as a result of 'that' regardless of the other 'that'(s).

The problem that exists here is that some people rely so heavily upon the theory they fail to see any other possibilities, even if the other possibilities are more sound. This lead to poor decisions on every level. A major problem

posted on Mar, 24 2010 @ 02:34 PM
reply to post by Solasis

Good topic. I have noticed the over-simplification of the use of Occam's Razor around here as well.

Occam's is a guideline in developing a theorem, not a proof on one being right about something that has not been proven by experimental observation. Also needing to be repeated by independent observers. See Wikipedia: Occam's Razor:

In science, Occam’s razor is used as a heuristic (rule of thumb) to guide scientists in the development of theoretical models rather than as an arbiter between published models.[4][5] In the scientific method, Occam's razor is not considered an irrefutable principle of logic, and certainly not a scientific result.[6][7][8][9]

See also:Wikipedia: Scientific Method

Four essential elements[20][21][22] of a scientific method[23] are iterations,[24][25] recursions,[26] interleavings, and orderings of the following:
Characterizations (observations,[27] definitions, and measurements of the subject of inquiry)
Hypotheses[28][29] (theoretical, hypothetical explanations of observations and measurements of the subject)[30]
Predictions (reasoning including logical deduction[31] from the hypothesis or theory)
Experiments[32] (tests of all of the above)

If the scientific method is not included in the use of Occam's Razor, it is like a simpleton saying that the Earth is flat because it appears to be so. That was the simplest answer for thousands of years, n'est-ce pas?

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