Posted by: John Vandivier | May 12, 2013

Occam’s Razor: You’re Doing it Wrong

Occam’s (or Ockham’s) Razor has been called a heuristic device. Heuristic means a guide or suggestion. It appears in various forms including versions which are useless tautologies, supposedly useful rules of thumb, fallacious positivist philosophy and lastly it is occasionally used properly as a distillery for information. One example would be in the video from the sacrilegious fool Edward Current at :17:

This claim is bogus. Given a result with two necessary prerequisites, a sale of goods for example, this rule will always fail because an explanation with one necessary cause can be posited but that doesn’t make it true. Furthermore, given any explanation with only one necessary cause an infinite number of other explanations with the same number of complications or assumptions can be contrived, all of which are false, destroying the likelihood claim which he lacks data for anyway.

Case 1:
A + B = C is known to be true.
Edward’s version of Occam’s Razor falsely implies that the statement A, B or D = C is preferable to the known truth.
Some other interpretations of Occam’s Razor would imply that C = C which is true but useless.

Case 2:
A = B is known to be true.
According to Edward’s Occam’s Razor the possibilities C, D, E, F… = B are just as likely as the known truth.

This is because Edward’s standard says that logic, usefulness, observational consistency and truth don’t matter. Rather, the likelihood of the truth of a statement is explained simply by the number of presuppositions and complications. Well I’m sorry if not all reality breaks down to a prekindergarten level, Edward, but some explanations are flat out complicated and that doesn’t preclude them from being true nor preferable. Even on a statistically normative basis which you provide no data for and which can be easily refuted from simply thought experiment.

Positivism is of course fallacious because something can exist without being observed. Tautologies, such as the statement, “a statement should be as complicated as it needs to be but no more,” are true but useless and discourage deep thinking. Not to mention they are contradictory since tautologies themselves are nothing but redundant statements. In reality how can one know whether or not one has obtained an ideally complex statement? You can’t know without further investigation, but therefore, by virtue of not getting things complicated, you shouldn’t try to know.

In reality Occam’s Razor is useful for one thing. To distill information. If the same information is contained in two phrasings, one of which is shorter, that one is preferable because it is more efficient. If the information contained, the assumptions necessary or the implications defer at all then Ockham’s Razor is philosophically unjustified and will result in what I will call an “Occam fallacy.” Occam’s Razor is essentially a tool that says that using tautologies is a waste of time. I agree. Ironic that some would invoke it as such.

Example of proper use:
Possible phrase 1:
0*((A/A)*(B+C+D+E/H))^N = Y
Possible phrase 2:
0 = Y

Possible phrase 2 is preferable because the two phrasings contain the same information and one does so in a more efficient fashion.

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Responses

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Occam's Razor bothers me tremendously. The way people interpret the Razor is all that is wrong with the world. Say I have a friend Jonathan. Jonathan is in investment banking. Jonathan is an affable guy and loves to drink to access, smoke marijuana, and snort cocaine. Jeremy, his coworker, knows that Jonathan is standing in his way of his rise in investment banking and his love life. Unbeknownst to my friends and I, my charming, friend of a friend Jeremy is a sociopath. Jeremy believes life is a game and plans an elaborate scheme to "beat" Jonathan. After a long night of drinking, Jeremy escorts Jonathan home. Jonathan crashes. Jeremy injects Jonathan with hydrogen sulfide in the arm. The next day Jonathan complains of ringing in his ears. Jonathan is diagnosed with titinius. After a few weeks, it becomes apparent to Jonathan's family, friends, and coworkers that "something is not right." Jonathan's performance at work slides. Jonathan visits a professional psychologist who administers an intelligence test and concludes that the results indiciate brain damage. Under the influence of Occam's Razor, taught to them and used socially, Jonathan's friends, family, and doctors attribute his brain damage to alcohol and drug abuse. Jonathan gets let go from his job in investment banking and Jeremy gets promoted. Jonathan's brain damage is his fault in the eyes of society and he goes to work in middle management. This is why Occam's Razor sucks. Here is another story (true story):After 12 years of working together, the partner of a sociopathic, glory-obsessed CEO is diagnosed with mesothelioma, a cancer usually induced by asbestos. The partner has never been around asbestos in his life. The physicians conclude that he is one of the rare cases who spontaneously developed the cancer. The partner dies three months later in relative obscurity. The CEO had preplanned his partner's death, lining his partner's office with asbestos 12 years earlier. By Occam's razor the partner came down with cancer spontaneously.Third story:Humankind progresses technologically throughout the millennia and toward the singularity. Life evolves to the point where it becomes a unified force (singularity) and still fights for its survival in the Universe against competing forces like atomic, electromagnetic, and gravity. The singular force of life does not desire to become one with matter by the force of gravity – it wants to maintain its sentience. As matter comes together the sentience concludes it needs to accelerate progress in the past in order to avoid the singularity of matter in an asymptotic manner. The sentience is able to reverse the assembly of matter in the Universe and entropic states and actually influence the past in a God-like manner. Now, the existence of God is logical. Now Occam's razor supporting atheistic beliefs fails.

  3. Great comment man! Occam's Razor really is a piece of trash everyone abuses isn't it? If you liked the article please spread it around and read some others. Trying to change the world here and that starts with good information getting out there.


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