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January 24, 2013
First off, there's some confusion how to spell it. Occam's or Ockham's.
Since Medieval English philosopher and excommunicated Franciscan friar and philosopher named William of Ockham, in the 14th century, is credited for the concept of Ockham's razor, Ockham it is.
(Occam is the Latin spelling.)
But what is it?
Well, the razor part means cutting absurdities out of arguments.
Ockham wrote, "Pluralitas non est ponenda sine neccesitate" or "plurality should not be posited without necessity."
One should always choose the simplest explanation of a phenomenon, the one that requires the fewest assumptions.
The modern version is: keep it simple stupid.
It's difficult to believe that someone didn't think of it before, but the Englishman developed a fundamental principle of modern thought:
"Entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily."
Which also sounds very impressive in Latin.
But simply means, when the answer is apparent, don't keep looking for something else.
Many scientists have adopted or reinvented Ockham's Razor, which probably violates the rule itself.
However, when Isaac Newton restated the rule it was okay:
"We are to admit no more causes of natural things than such as are both true and sufficient to explain their appearances."
Stop thinking. It's not that complicated.
But humans, being what we are, are constantly searching for new ways to muck it up.
"If you have two theories that both explain the observed facts, then you should use the simplest until more evidence comes along."
According to Ockham, the simpler it is, the more preferable it is.
But nowhere does he assert that the simpler explanation is always more correct than the complex explanation.
There may be parsimony in logic, but it's not logical that parsimony works.
Atheists, for example, use Ockham's Razor to support their belief:
Saying there is a universe is simpler, than there is a universe and a God that created it.
I'm all for keeping it simpler.
Not that sure about simple.
“The Encyclopedia of Philosophy” notes that Occam (or Ockham) was the most influential philosopher of the fourteenth century.
Take any subject today. Gay Marriage. Healthcare. The economy. The NFL playoffs. Academy Awards.
How would the "Razor" apply to cut through the clutter?