When something is unknown, does Occam's Razor always take over?

Discussion in 'General Science & Technology' started by garbonzo, Jul 25, 2013.

  1. garbonzo Registered Senior Member

    When we have no facts on something, can we automatically say 100% of the time that it is most likely to be the most simplest thing? Every time? Thanks.
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  3. Russ_Watters Not a Trump supporter... Valued Senior Member

    If there are no facts, then there is nothing to apply Occam's razor to, but the main answer is no: Occam's razor is only a guide it is not 100% correct.
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  5. Captain Kremmen All aboard, me Hearties! Valued Senior Member

    The simplest explanation may be wrong.
    For example, take the question "What is Light?"
    The answer "Light is God's radiance" is simple, but without any scientific basis..

    Each added assumption in a theory, makes it increasingly unlikely to be true.
    So theories with fewer assumptions may be more likely to be true.
    But if a theory contains scientifically unwarranted assumptions,
    then it is not a good theory no matter how simple it is.
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  7. Sarkus Hippomonstrosesquippedalo phobe Valued Senior Member

    Occam's razor does not use the term "simplest" although is often taken to mean much the same.

    The issue with your example is that the entire concept of God is not simple, and "God did it!" is not the simplest explanation, even if it is the easiest to say. So one has to be careful not to confuse the simplicity of the words with the simplicity of the meaning.
    After all, who is god? What is god? What does he do? How does he do it?

    As you allude to, Occam was concerned with plurality and redundancy, and having too many assumptions.
    Simplicity does seem to drop out of the bottom as a result, but one must be careful not to assume simplicity in an explanation or an assumption, when it might be anything but.
  8. Sarkus Hippomonstrosesquippedalo phobe Valued Senior Member

    If we have zero facts on something, how can we come up with any theory at all?
    There must at least be the recognition of a phenomenon? An initial observation?
    And if there are zero facts then how can we say which theory has more or less redundancy, plurality, assumptions?
    As others have said, Occam's razor would not be applicable, because there would be nothing meaningful to apply it to.
  9. garbonzo Registered Senior Member

    Say, what happens after death. There are no facts about it, as it hasn't been observed.
  10. Captain Kremmen All aboard, me Hearties! Valued Senior Member

    Science can only talk about the body.
    The body dies, the brain dies, the person ceases to function.
    The person is dead.
    Views about the afterlife are in the realm of Religion.

    I agree with your statements.
    It is only when apparently simple hypotheses are subjected to scientific scrutiny,
    that they are shown to involve a larger numbers of assumptions.
    Last edited: Jul 25, 2013
  11. Sarkus Hippomonstrosesquippedalo phobe Valued Senior Member

    There are facts regarding after death, but they mostly relate to the body.
    We know for a fact that prior to death there were signs of consciousness, and that after death those signs no longer exist.

    Now, we could arrive at competing "theories": that consciousness has left the body and now exists somewhere else, and that it is undetectable by us; or that consciousness merely ceases to exist.

    Occam's razor would, i suggest, favour the latter: it contains fewer "unknowns".

    But one can only apply Occam's razor to competing theories. It is a tool to help favour one over another. It can not be applied to merely a question (as you framed it above) without first arriving at a number of competing ideas.

    For me, since an afterlife is an unevidenced phenomenon, any theory that is predicated on the idea of an afterlife is already at the back of the queue compared to theories that don't start from there.
  12. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    You have not stated Occam's Razor correctly. But you can be forgiven since nobody does. The correct statement is (in modern English):

    When confronted with a problem, always test the simplest solution first.​

    Notice that William of Ockham makes no prediction as to whether the simplest solution will be the right one. His point is merely that, since the resources of science and scholarship are finite, we should use them wisely. The simplest solution will be the easiest and fastest to test. If it turns out to be wrong, we haven't wasted much time, effort or money. We can immediately move on to a more complex solution.

    But if we go directly to the most complex solution, it might take us weeks, months, even years to complete the test. We could expend the Academy's entire annual budget on this one test, leaving us no resources for anything else. Then, if it turns out to be false, we discover that we've been living in ignorance for years and that the Academy has no resources to test any other possible solutions--to this problem or any other!

    It's simply common sense.

    "Uh-oh! The lights just went off. There must be a poltergeist in the house."
    "I suppose you could be right. But I'm going to go check the circuit breakers first, since it won't take half a minute."​

    Huh? More than two hundred thousand deaths are witnessed every day. They all follow exactly the same course: All life processes come to a halt, decay begins, and in particular within a few minutes without oxygen the synapses degrade irreversibly, making it impossible that cognition can ever be restored.

    But this is not about Occam's Razor. This is about another cornerstone of the scientific method: the Rule of Laplace.

    Extraordinary assertions must be supported by extraordinary evidence before we are obliged to treat them with respect. (American TV viewers know this as "Sagan's Law" because Carl Sagan taught it to us on a long-running PBS series.)​

    The Rule of Laplace certainly applies to all claims of miracles and other supernatural phenomena, such as, specifically, the oxymoron of "life after death." This notion contradicts everything we've learned about living creatures, not to mention the entire natural universe, in half a millennium of steadily advancing science. In order to be treated with respect, advocates of the "afterlife" hypothesis have to present some (respectable) evidence to support it. They have never done so.

    Therefore, we are allowed (although not required) to treat them with contempt and derision.
  13. Stoniphi obscurely fossiliferous Valued Senior Member

    hmmm....maybe we should make that a requirement then. :scratchin:
  14. Sarkus Hippomonstrosesquippedalo phobe Valued Senior Member

    Do you have any evidence/source that this is the correct form of the razor? It does go against what most scholars have understood about the razor and the origins thereof.

    From what i can gather, the actual razor associated with Occam was first applied to him in 1852 by William Hamilton, and is fairly well defined as "Entia non sunt multiplicanda, praeter necessitatem." And this has a very well understood meaning by people who can read Latin.

    The only two variants that Occam (as I understand it) ever used in his works were:
    "Pluralitas non est ponenda sine necessitate" (Plurality should not be posited without necessity); and
    "Frustra fit per plura quod potest fieri per pauciora" (It is pointless to do with more what can be done with less) - from his Summa Totius Logicae.

    Now it is quite possible that there were variants in use at the time that stated "test", as you suggest, and variants have been in use since Aristotle, so there are undoubtedly many to choose from.

    But when we refer to Occam's razor, whether it was first uttered or written by him or not, we do mean "Entia non sunt multiplicanda..." Etc.
    Which translates to "Entities should not be multiplied, without necessity."
  15. Captain Kremmen All aboard, me Hearties! Valued Senior Member

    We could call it Fraggle's Rule of Enforced Derision
  16. Captain Kremmen All aboard, me Hearties! Valued Senior Member

    Fraggle heard it from Occam himself.
  17. Dufoe Registered Member

    Ugh, backwards interpretation... God by definition makes any "god" centered explanation more complicated..

    If there is a god, what made god? An Omnipotent "god" is so much harder to explain than the most complicated answers out there.

    It hurts me more to see Occams Razor used in this manner than it would to hear someone deny the moon landing =o/
  18. Captain Kremmen All aboard, me Hearties! Valued Senior Member

    Would you say that: " A leaf is a plant's organ of photosynthesis"
    is a complicated statement or a simple one?
    I would say simple, despite all the terms being complex were one to try to define them fully.

    You don'r have to get a dictionary and encyclopaedia out every time you speak a sentence.
    Last edited: Jul 25, 2013
  19. Dufoe Registered Member

    Occam's Razor is simply an exercise in logic. All it says is, simpler explanations are, other things being equal, generally better than more complex ones. It's just a simple logical construct, don't think too much into it.
  20. Dufoe Registered Member

    Remember this is relativistic in nature. The goal isn't to determine if something is simple, instead it is to determine, when given choices, which choice is the simplest. So the leaf thing is a poor example but if you said which of the two theories should we test first? ... and then provided two theories of equal merit, Occam's Razor then comes into play when deciding which theory to test first, and the answer is the simplest. statistically speaking the simplest is right more often than the more complex, therefore it makes sense to always test theories of equal merit in order of simplest to most complex.

    Its really just that simple.
  21. Grumpy Curmudgeon of Lucidity Valued Senior Member

    I was always taught the form of Occam's Razor as being that the best explanation is that which explains all aspects of a process without additional entities(Occam's word meaning without superfluous additions to the least complex, but all encompassing theory(hypothesis until supported by evidence)). The simplest explanation that explains all aspects is not always simple at all, those that are simple are often called "Elegant". The characteristic of satisfying and elegant theories that scientists seek is called "Parsimony", meaning enough but not one bit more(or one bit less). A lot of scientists accepted Einstein's Relativity because it explained so many of the mysteries we were puzzling over(the orbit of Mercury, for example)and made so many predictions that have all turned out to be true. It contains concepts like equivalence(E=MC^2)that deliver the highest bang for the buck for any formula, ever(it is one of the keys to understanding almost every event in this Universe).

    Where excess entities come in is where the Razor comes in. A simplistic example is Evolution caused by the Natural forces of the environment versus Evolution directed by an entity. Unless there is clear evidence of the entity's influence(say man's influence on cattle, sheep, dog and horse evolution over the last 100,000 years)it is best not to add him/her/it to your explanation, as natural forces are sufficient to explain evolution.


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  22. Layman Totally Internally Reflected Valued Senior Member

    I would never use Occam's Razor to explain anything. If it could be explained that simply it would have already been explained scientifically already. You would only be making a guess at something that has most likely already been proven. Then any further advancement in science would be so complex that a simple solution wouldn't be the correct one.

    Say for instance instead you tried to explain how humans evolved in only the past 10,000 years and started out having better knowledge of building that we could ever figure out. According to Occam's Razor you could just say that humans landed on Earth in space ships 10,000 years ago.

    In modern science Occam's Razor would be the quickest way to complete nonsense.
  23. billvon Valued Senior Member

    Occam's Razor doesn't explain any principles. It just states that the simplest explanation is generally the correct one.

    No, many things do not have a simple explanation. The wave/particle duality of light, for example. No super simple definition of light explains both the double-slit experiment and the operation of a laser, for example. So you can't claim that "well, we had a simple explanation; why complicate it?" The simple explanation didn't work.

    (A corollary of Occam's Razor states that explanations should be as simple as possible - but no simpler.)

    You could. And if you found wrecked space ships, and no hominid fossils older than 10,000 years, and no genetic resemblance between humans and the rest of the mammals, then that might well be the simplest explanation.

    However none of the above are true. So Occam's Razor says that the "space ship" explanation, being the more complex one that involves more unfounded assumptions, is likely not the correct one.

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