# Occam's razor

Do you like Occam’s Razor…what are your thought on it?

Here is what I see:

The idea is that the simplest explanation is often the best.
But there is a problem…how does one define “simple”
Whether an idea is simple to grasp depends on what you know regarding the subject.
For example if you tried to explain the workings of an atom to an ancient Egyptian…it would be quite hard and they would consider everything to complex and simply B.S.
Or imagine trying to explain to them how a satellite worked…or that the sun was a star (although that would have religious problems too)…or evolution…or how that air is actually a gas…etc
So as i see it there can be ideas of people that are understanding more things perhaps far beyond the “normal” understanding…The idea may be correct, but in order to get anyone to understand it you have to explain this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, and this, and then someone says no…that is way too complex…I think Occam’s Razor cuts right through that…
And then we get no where instead of someone actually attempting a logical argument.

But then with regards to understanding of the general stuff I think Occam’s Razor can be accurate, in that often when there is good understanding of the subject matter it is simple to see the one thing missing and solve the puzzle…but I think that all depends on what is already known and thus generally Occam’s Razor is not really a valid assertion…

That’s pretty much it.

Occam’s razor merely proposed that IF you have the choice of 2 equal ways to describe and understand how something works, it is better to choose the simpler one (simpler to you). The issue arose concerning the geocentric understanding of orbits versus the heliocentric. Both equally explain the data, so the “better” choice, is the simpler choice. The reason it is the the better is because the purpose is to gather more and more information, thus the less complex any one portion is, the easier it is to gain more understanding of more things, “shave off the unnecessary complexity”.

Same thing is done in Mathematical Proofs…If A is hard to prove try proving the contra-positive…
Of course you may know this but I see that sometimes the “harder way” can reveal certain eccentricities that would otherwise go unnoticed… Or simply in some things it is good to look at it both ways basically…

When you have the time, question even the unquestionable.

Clarify, Verify, and Remember…

indeed…Other wise you might call it obsessive or something…

The classical formulation of Occam’s razor is Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem or Entia non sunt multiplicanda sine necessitate, which can be transalated as «one has not to assume “things” beyond or without what is necessary». This is also normally called the principle of economy and remains to date probably the most influential guideline in scientific method.
So, simplicity means that explanations need to have the least possible number of elements coming into play, whether they are objects, forces, etc.
Usually this is also the criterion that contributes to qualify a theory as “elegant” and that leads to replace older theories with new ones, whether the formers are less elegant, i.e. more cumbersome or assuming unnecessary elements.

This criterion of simplicity seems a fairly inter-subjective one and I guess that it is clear what are the practical benefits of this choice.
Having said this, I tend to share your perplexity: simpler does not mean true. We “discover” macro or micro systems from theories complying (also) with such a principle, but this very fact shows that ultimately we don’t know if that is really what takes place - although experimental data must not contradict the theory, else, as much elegant as it could be, the theory is modified or abandoned.

This means that, ultimately, science is mainly a work of interpretation and interpretations are influenced by cultural/historical aspects (“how much” is the issue, here).

In my view, Occam’s razor is also the weapon that has bee used to kill God. It is known that when Laplace achieved his work on rational mechanics, he said that God was an unnecessary hypothesis - it may remain valid for the faithful, no longer for the scientist.

I don’t think so.
Occam lived in the XIV century and dealt with a number of subjects, but not with Heliocentrism. The dispute Heliocentrism vs Geocentrism, i.e. the Copernican vs the Ptolemaic system arose in the XVI century. Moreover, the theory of Heliocentrism, as Copernicus wrote it in De revolutionibus, was not simpler than the Ptolemaic Geocentrism. For instance Copernicus assumed that orbits were perfect circles (as the old theory did), and therefore it needed to maintain a lot of unnecessary complications like epicycles.
Galileo (Sidereus Nuncius) indeed refuted the Ptolemaic system, but that was made through new observations, not because the new theory was simpler.

Besides to say it suggests otherwise of God is odd…Isn’t saying it was because of God the simplest explanation?
i would think anyways that science is just discovering “how” God did it…

One may see it like that, ultimately everything is in God’s hands and science magnifies Lord’s creation.
And that would be much simpler as well.
Indeed if we have to venture in a petty genealogy of religion - as it was à la mode in the XIX century - it is reasonable to assume that the idea of God / the gods dawned in the mind of men also as a surrogate of what today we rather call science.
But would that be an explanation?

What God would explain?
The value of science is in producing predictions as statements on relations of quantities (possibly incomplete characterization, but fairly correct I guess) and these must be reproducible: every time that a certain set of conditions is given, there must be that outcome, not differently.
Where God fits in all this? Thy Lord is omnipotent and omniscient, he could let the universe work as usual through what people call the laws of nature, but he could do just the opposite and change everything according to his will. Only that in fact we do not know/we can’t understand what he wants (except that he loves us, of course…). There is no way to figure out how God’s will works except leaps of faith - and it has to be so, because if that could be known beforehand, He would stop to be what He is believed to be.
What’s the scientific value of this hypothesis? What would that enable you to explain or predict?

It seems easy written like that, but contrarily this has not been easy to concede for the religious establishments - and rightfully so. As the new science rose, they reacted vehemently. Galileo was brought to trial, Berkeley attacked Newton (and that was brave…).
Actually they still struggle to reverse the widespread concept that - from a scientific point of view - God is nugatory.
Even when He tries to sneak in concealed in scientific paraphernalia - as in the case of Intelligent Design - He can’t make it. As much as the Prima Causa and teleological arguments are popular evergreens for supporting the belief in some God, they make unnecessary assumptions that have no heuristic/explanatory power, they are not immune to Occam’s razor.
Sorry, but… He’s gone.
Maybe He has not left your heart, but he’s been cast out of science and there seems to be no possible opportunity for a comeback. Which does not meant that it is impossible. On the contrary, I would not be surprised if, some day, science incur in politically correctness’ anathema and all scientific theories will be edited to include a clause acknowledging the possibility that the supposed discovery(-ies) might be utterly false, that all observations were only a series of “acts of God”, which are evidence of no law but His will.
Or maybe, assuming that Science is no absolute and eternal truth either, God will find a way to get his job back - by definition, he definitely can…

explanation does not exclusively mean getting predictions about relations between quantities. People like “something deeper” sometimes. But that would take the discussion to a different level/subject, and I don’t like leading the debate off-topic].

No, no…
Heliocentrism was introduced in Greece around 300BC. It involved the Sun being the center of the universe rather than the Earth. With the Earth as a center (whether perfectly centered or not), the path of the planets became a complex spiraling whereas with the Sun in the center, all of the planets basically followed a circular path. Ptolemaic might have written on the issue, but it was around long, long before Claudius was even in diapers.

Correct, but I referred to the dispute - which led to Galileo’s trial, not to when the theory was initially formed.

At the peak of the debate between heliocentrism and geocentrism, occam’s razor was no help. There were corrections required for heliocentric systems just like there were for geocentric systems.

What is really interesting is that the geocentric systems all required corrections that corresponded with the relative position of the Earth and the Sun. So we can reasonably either adopt a heliocentric system that explains why we would need these corrections (i.e., because the Sun is the centre) or we can adopt a Tychonic system, where the planets go around the sun and the sun goes around the earth.

In the end, neither really fits. Better would be to talk of the center of mass of the solar system. This rests, if not actually somewhere within the sun, at least very close to the sun.

This is a good question. Occam’s Razor sometimes gets used against conspiracy theories, but conspiracies theories actually present a simpler, more cohesive explanation. IOW what might seem like a bunch of disconnected facts - there was, the same day as 9/11 a terrorist drill for a scenario with planes being used as missiles, fighter planes did not, as per usual protocol, get called in until too late, the supposed pilots were considered extremely poor pilots by the schools involved, the FBI was called off investigating these types of schools that year…and so on - can be called a single pattern by a conspiracy theorist. The OR can actually be used in favor of conspiracy theories.

it seems like a use-it-when-it-serves-you argument.

Sciences establishes “therois” which are accepted once shown to be “most likely”
Too many think science proves things…

Science seems to show only partial explanations.
Take something simple: How does a cup work?
They could go into explanations of how particles of the glass hold together to keep the water from moving away.
But then it comes down to gravity keeps it in the cup…
But what is gravity?
We get a certain amount of partial explanations and begin to think we actually understand how it works…when really we just understand a little bit, and we only ever seem to be understanding a little bit more, and more, there seems to be no definite approach to any final answer.
And of course how would science answer how or why the laws must be the laws they are, why things couldn’t simply work other wise entirely, even with contradictions…

P.S. I think “digressions” if coming from the topic are good, I would be more concerned with endless butting-of-heads…although i can be fine with butting-of-heads if there is an end in sight…
Besides it is quite easy to maintain multiple discussions on a textual forum, even when in the same topic.

Agree. Maybe I appear as a Scientism-ic hardliner in the post you quote, but, believe me, usually I argue from a quite different angle.

Agree on this too. But with one remark.
Why people - to stick with your example - assume that the water stays in the cup because of something called gravity, which may not exist ? As some of them probably believe in the God of one of the revealed religions, why they don’t believe instead that the water remains there because God wants it to be so? (Maybe some fanatic does, I just simplify a bit assuming that the majority would behave in this way). Why do they chose to favour the hypothesis of something that may not exist instead of something they believe to exist?
Because of the law of gravity I guess. We do not really know if this force is there, actually the trend is to think that it’s not really there. But the law (and constants) is there enough to fly airplanes, fire missiles, launch rockets…

So here we have moved from the theoretical point of view to the one of praxis.
Science has indeed the limitations you say and scientism is a great overstatement of scientific knowledge.
(I am very “nominalistic” on this - as about anything else, I guess - so I just do not believe that scientific laws are for real, something to which nature is bound. They are basically tools, on the whole they have had too much tinkering to believe that they are indeed the content of the «book of nature». It’s foolish to revere them as a sort of religion, treat them like dogmas - which some people do).

But science is also (or mainly) power, a huge power way beyond the wildest dreams any religion could ever promise (true: no afterlife - yet). And here is where God gets even more in troubles. No God ever delivered so massively and well.
But, again, that is clearly off-topic and I stop here.

You are quite right, but I remain a little stiff on this, because I just get tired and confused of +20 pages threads, filled with one-line posts, where one finds anything about everything and wonders how they got there from the OP.
You seem fairly active in this forum, I guess that we are going to have other opportunities to exchange our views again (surely as long as I am insomniac like I have been lately).

That would be based on the assumption that physical things are better than spiritual.
And largely the circular logic that they are better simply because by being better they show that the spiritual doesn’t exist.
Although i consider the spiritual all things in all forms physical and other wise…but another time right…
Plus many of the things science provides end up causing disaster, and then fear of war and such lead to the need of escalation of tech-producing endeavors…tech breeds need for more tech…
I might come across as anti-science but I’m not, i think science is good overall, and wonderful with regards to thought methods, but we too blindly find anything related good…

Practice makes perfect.

I would hope so.

If there were understanding of the meaninglessness of what’s being done – techniques and scientists can be changed, but basically and essentially, the very teaching being used to reach the goal of simplicity is the obstacle. It doesn’t matter what field of knowledge you follow. If you question the teaching, unfortunately, you have to question the teacher himself – but then comes the sentiment: “Something is wrong with me, one day I am going to understand.” If it is not possible for you to understand today, you are not going to understand at all. So the understanding is the absence of the demand for understanding – now or tomorrow.

Now, there is no understanding necessary. The understanding is only for the purpose of understanding something tomorrow – not today. Today you don’t have to understand a thing at all.

It may sound funny, but that’s the way it is. So what is to be understood? It’s not that it is difficult. It is so simple. The complex structure that is involved is the very thing that does not accept the simplicity of it. That is really the problem. “It can’t be that simple,” you think. Because that structure is so complex that it doesn’t want even to consider the possibility that it could be so simple. So you are going to understand tomorrow, not today. Tomorrow it is the same story.

This very simple fact of our life, of our existence, is something which the complex structure that we have created is not ready to accept, because its very simplicity is going to shatter the complexity. What, after all, is evolution, if there is any such thing as evolution? It is the simple becoming complex. The complex structure is not ready to face this situation - the very simplicity of the whole process. When once that is understood, the whole theory of evolution collapses. Maybe there is such a thing as evolution. We really don’t know for sure. When once you accept that there is an evolution in the life around, you put the same thing in the spiritual realm and say that there is also spiritual progress. You will say, “I am more evolved than my neighbor - spiritually speaking, more evolved than my fellow beings.” That makes us feel superior to all.

I might think of it like this; everything is imply one thing, we try to break it up in parts to understand it for some reason…who knows…but really its just as well to just accept it as one.
I do however believe that evolution is viable within our perceived-axiomatic-reality…
And that there is so long as time is sensed, due to perception of relative instances, the process of “spiritual” progress (I relate all things as being spiritual, the physical an aspect thereof, and not magical as there is no lack of understanding necessary…)but then i wouldn’t consider the progress as exactly a “better-ness” all parts of the equation of life are crucial to the overall functioning thereof…there are just things in different states…ultimately though I do see that particular states lead recursively into lower states that promote heightening dissatisfaction per unit time.

OR is commonly misunderstood as a tool for deciding which among a set of competing theories is the correct one. It is not. It is a tool for deciding which is the most cognitively economic. It is our recourse when we have no other way of deciding the truth.

The universe cares not for simplicity or complexity. It will be as complex and redundant as it wants to be. It is not there to cater to the limits of our puny intellects.