Careful With That Razor, Occam

Cutting your own throat with Occam’s (Ockham’s) razor (Summa Logicae, 1323) has been a recurring meme since (before) I started Psybertron. Here a piece by Philip Ball in The Atlantic reinforces that the drive for simplicity can just as well be counter-productive.

Between the infinity of (general) theses that may explain an (individual) phenomenon and the maximum efficiency of economy there are many plausible explanations.

“We are to admit no more causes of natural things, than such as are both true and sufficient to explain their appearances.” [restated by Isaac Newton, Principia Mathematica (1687).]
Simplicity is a practical virtue, allowing a clearer view of what’s most important in [an intentionally simplified view of] a phenomenon.
But Occam’s razor is often fetishized and misapplied as a guiding beacon for scientific enquiry. Here the implication is that the simplest theory isn’t just more convenient, but gets [more probably, correctly] closer to how nature really works.
There’s absolutely no reason to believe that.

Fetish. Yes, that’s the language I’ve been using too.


Originally published at Psybertron Asks.

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