AN INTRODUCTION TO OCKHAM’S RAZOR
“Pluralitas non est ponenda sine necessitate”
Ockham’s razor, states that the simplest explanation tends to be the right one. While the definition is straightforward, application of Ockham’s Razor requires some development.
In this paper we are going to investigate the question, “How is simplicity to be determined?” Some philosophers and scientists have suggested that simplicity is determined by a certain kind of elegance or in other cases a level of coherence combined with explanatory power. We suggest that such models are nonsense.
We will start off by taking examples from the fields of Psychology and Linguistics before drawing some general conclusions about the nature of knowledge.
Consider this statement which was posted on the blog of a member of my house hold staff. This person writes, “Justin suffers a kind of delusion in which he believes that he dating that girl from Amelie, Audrey Tautou. It is really creepy.”
In examining this statement we can consider two alternative situations:
Possible Explanation #1
1) Justin has a delusion
2) This delusion includes the belief that he is dating Audrey Tautou.
3) (Implied) Justin is not actually dating Audrey Tautou.
4) Some aspect of this situation is ‘creepy.’
Or Possible Explanation #2
1) Justin is dating Audrey Tautou.
Well, it should seem obvious that Option #2 is considerably simpler. This can be verified by either counting the words or counting the lines. Either way you see that I am one lucky guy.
Audrey is a private girl. I can’t help it that she wants to keep things quiet.
Let’s consider a question posed by my good friend Molly who was looking over my shoulder as I was trying to write. “Why did you include a Latin phrase at the top of the essay when you don’t speak Latin?”
Possible Explanation # 1: Justin thought it was cool when modernist poets like Ezra Pound did it, even though Justin in no way condones Pound’s anti-Semitism.
Possible Explanation #2: Justin knew the phrase had something to do with Ockham, but didn’t know how to translate it, and Google Translate doesn’t translate Latin.
Possible Explanation # 3: Molly didn’t have to bring up my use of Latin. She is just jealous.
Implications for a Theory of Knowledge
My friend Steve recently took me aside. He said that a number of people were concerned about my being so stubborn in clinging to certain beliefs. He brought up the Audrey thing (which I have already conclusively demonstrated I am right about.) He asked me to consider two possible explanations for my increasing alienation from others.
Possible Explanation #1 Everyone, but Justin, is Crazy.
Possible Explanation # 2 Justin is the only person who is crazy.
Well, this is a no-brainer. “Everyone, but Justin, is crazy” is obviously the simpler belief. This is a tricky one, because you can only demonstrate simplicity by counting the words, and not simply counting the lines.
What is interesting about this case is that “Everyone, but Justin, is Crazy” succeeds not only because it is the simpler of the explanations but it also has considerably greater explanatory power. Not only does it explain the present situation but it explains a great deal of unrelated events, including those of contemporary education, politics, religion, and television.
The second possible explanation is not only more complex, but would explain relatively little. Maybe Justin’s sense of fashion.
It is a sad conclusion, but one which explains why so few people put Ockham’s Razor to sensible and reasonable use.