Undercover Sceptic

Hi and a very warm welcome to The Undercover Sceptic Forum, I created this forum for like minded people to come and share their thoughts on sceptical subjects so please donate your wisdom freely for the furtherance of rational thought, Thankyou.
 
HomeCalendarFAQSearchUsergroupsRegisterLog in

Share | 
 

 Ockham's Razor

View previous topic View next topic Go down 
AuthorMessage
undercover sceptic
Admin
avatar

Male Number of posts : 520
Age : 43
Location : N.E. England
Job/hobbies : reading popular science, research.
Humor : Dry
Registration date : 2008-06-18

PostSubject: Ockham's Razor   Mon May 11, 2009 8:59 pm

The Razor

Ockham’s razor is the principle of parsimony or simplicity according to which the simpler theory is more likely to be true. Ockham did not invent this principle; it is found in Aristotle, Aquinas, and other philosophers Ockham read. Nor did he call the principle a “razor.” In fact, the first known use of the term “Occam’s razor” occurs in 1852 in the work of the British mathematician William Rowan Hamilton. Although Ockham never even makes an argument for the validity of the principle, he uses it in many striking ways, and this is how it became associated with him.

For some, the principle of simplicity implies that the world is maximally simple. Aquinas, for example, argues that nature does not employ two instruments where one suffices. This interpretation of the principle is also suggested by its most popular formulation: “Entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity.” Yet this is a problematic assertion. We know today that nature is often redundant in both form and function. Although medieval philosophers were largely ignorant of evolutionary biology, they did affirm the existence of an omnipotent God, which is alone enough to render the assumption that the world is maximally simple suspicious. In any case, Ockham never makes this assumption and he does not use the popular formulation of the principle.

For Ockham, the principle of simplicity limits the multiplication of hypotheses not necessarily entities. Favouring the formulation “It is useless to do with more what can be done with less,” Ockham implies that theories are meant to do things, namely, explain and predict, and these things can be accomplished more effectively with fewer assumptions.

At one level, this is just common sense. Suppose your car suddenly stops running and your fuel gauge indicates an empty gas tank. It would be silly to hypothesize both that you are out of gas and that you are out of oil. You need only one hypothesis to explain what has happened.

Some would object that the principle of simplicity cannot guarantee truth. The gas gauge on your car may be broken or the empty gas tank may be just one of several things wrong with the car. In response to this objection, one might point out that the principle of simplicity does not tell us which theory is true but only which theory is more likely to be true. Moreover, if there is some other sign of damage, such as a blinking oil gage, then there is a further fact to explain, warranting an additional hypothesis.

Although the razor seems like common sense in everyday situations, when used in science, it can have surprising and powerful effects. For example, in his classic exposition of theoretical physics, A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking attributes the discovery of quantum mechanics to Ockham’s razor.

Nevertheless, not everyone approves of the razor. Ockham’s contemporary and fellow Franciscan Walter Chatton proposed an “anti-razor” in opposition to Ockham. He declares that if three things are not enough to verify an affirmative proposition about things, a fourth must be added, and so on. Others call Ockham’s razor a “principle of stinginess,” accusing it of quashing creativity and imagination. Still others complain that there is no objective way to determine which of two theories is simpler. Often a theory that is simpler in one way is more complicated in another way. All of these concerns and others make Ockham’s razor controversial.

At bottom, Ockham advocates simplicity in order to reduce the risk of error. Every hypothesis carries the possibility that it may be wrong. The more hypotheses you accept, the more you increase your risk. Ockham strove to avoid error at all times, even if it meant abandoning well-loved, traditional beliefs. This approach helped to earn him his reputation as destroyer of the medieval synthesis of faith and reason.

So when we look at the world with a modern days sceptical viewpoint, we must ask, is there a simpler hypothesis?

When people maintain a belief they have seen a ghost it is right to apply Ockham's razor and ask, 'Is there a simpler explanation?'

Regards,

Den.

_________________
Skepticism is the agent of reason against organized irrationalism - and is therefore one of the keys to human social and civic decency.
Stephen J Gould

MY BLOG PAGE
Back to top Go down
View user profile
Jamie Clubb
Snr Member
avatar

Male Number of posts : 296
Age : 41
Job/hobbies : Coach/Writer
Humor : Groucho Marx, Tony Hancock, Bill Cosby, Billy Connolly, Paul Merton, Ricky Gervais
Registration date : 2008-06-20

PostSubject: Re: Ockham's Razor   Wed May 13, 2009 2:48 pm

Thanks for posting this, Den. I don't know if we had a discussion on it if you decided to post it independently. Ockham's Razor is also applied a lot in historical studies. "Counter-Knowledge" uses it to distinguish problems with hyperdifusionism and pseudohistory in general.

If I had been more aware of the Ockham's Razor principle, I would have included it in my article on minimalism and simplicity "A Touch of Puritanism". http://www.clubbchimera.com/?p=220
Back to top Go down
View user profile http://www.clubbchimera.com
undercover sceptic
Admin
avatar

Male Number of posts : 520
Age : 43
Location : N.E. England
Job/hobbies : reading popular science, research.
Humor : Dry
Registration date : 2008-06-18

PostSubject: Re: Ockham's Razor   Wed May 13, 2009 3:35 pm

Hi Jamie,

no we didn't discuss this,

it was an independent effort as part of my specialised blog dealing with defence against claims of ghost sightings etc, as you may be aware I have a little beef with ghostbusters, its petty I know but.......

I thought I would post Ockham's razor as a historical reference point as most only know the common usage term in current scepticism.

I find the article gives a deeper understanding of the principle rather than learning the phrase by rote.

You could always edit your blog entry? Anyway it is still an interesting article as it stands Smile

Be sceptical,

Den.

_________________
Skepticism is the agent of reason against organized irrationalism - and is therefore one of the keys to human social and civic decency.
Stephen J Gould

MY BLOG PAGE
Back to top Go down
View user profile
Jamie Clubb
Snr Member
avatar

Male Number of posts : 296
Age : 41
Job/hobbies : Coach/Writer
Humor : Groucho Marx, Tony Hancock, Bill Cosby, Billy Connolly, Paul Merton, Ricky Gervais
Registration date : 2008-06-20

PostSubject: Re: Ockham's Razor   Fri May 15, 2009 6:25 pm

I agree, Den. I like the synchronicity going on here! The Razor is also cited in "Voodoo Histories" and it is a great tool for serious historians to use to slice away fake conspiracy theories.

Maybe I will do a revised version of "A Touch of Puritanism" or save it for my book Wink

I asked my students to research Ockham's Razor and think about how it might apply to martial arts/self defence application: http://www.clubbchimera.com/?p=687
Back to top Go down
View user profile http://www.clubbchimera.com
Sponsored content




PostSubject: Re: Ockham's Razor   

Back to top Go down
 
Ockham's Razor
View previous topic View next topic Back to top 
Page 1 of 1
 Similar topics
-
» Demon with sharp teeth
» Hundreds Of Miles Of Razor Wire On Convoy Trucks

Permissions in this forum:You cannot reply to topics in this forum
Undercover Sceptic :: Scepticism :: Articles-
Jump to: