Occam’s Razor

Occam’s Razor is important, but I think it’s critical to not misapply or over-apply it.  The central point in Occam’s razor is: “Plurality is not to be posited without necessity”.  In other words, in the absence of certainty when developing a hypothesis (guess) about something, the hypothesis that makes the fewest assumptions is preferrable.

There are some who would say that the simplest hypothesis is usually the most correct one, but this is not always the case.  This reality is what makes overcoming primitive pre-conceptions such a tall task.  Indeed, the God hypothesis is, in many ways, a much simpler explanation for the world than what we’ve discovered to be true.

An example of this is when Pierre-Simon Laplace was tasked with presenting a more mathematically correct model of the solar system.  When presenting this model, Napolean Bonaparte asked Laplace  “where is God in your model?”, to which Laplace  famously replied, “sir, I have no need of that hypothesis.”

My point is that “God did it” is an exceedingly simple explanation that allows people to stop investigating.  The reason Laplace  needed to solve challenges inherent in the existing model of the solar system was because Isaac Newton (who by my best accounts might have been the smartest person who ever lived) stopped short of solving the problem almost 100 years earlier.  Newton was a far superior mathematician than LaPlace, but Newton was stifled; he had to balance pre-conceived notions that God did everything with the reality that it just does not appear so.  Newton was limited in how much leeway he had in describing a universe that did not include God.

Occam’s razor has proven to be a very useful tool in the investigation of the natural world.  It’s not a universal rule to assert that simplicity is better than complexity, nor is it a golden hammer that paints everything as a nail.  Rather, I think it provides balance to problems inherent in the human condition.  We seek out patterns, and we have cognitive dissonance when information is presented that is counter to our understanding.  It also forces us to be honest about the certainty with which we present our claims.


Author: Tim...Stepping Out

Tim Stepping Out

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