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Albert Einstein once said: "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler." Although not supported by math or science, and certainly not an axiom of physics, Occam's Razor (or Ockham's Razor) is the idea that, all things being equal, the simplest explanation in competing theories that explain the data equally well is likely the correct one. Putting aside for a moment the question of whether or not William of Ockham even said the words entia non sunt multiplicanda, præter necessitatem, the "razor," as it is sometimes called, doesn't substitute for the scientific method nor logic. Occam's Razor doesn't empirically establish proof of something. So why does anyone use it as a component of their discovery methods? Pragmatism? Just because something is simpler to understand does not make it correct (e.g., skeptics of conspiracy theories like to cite Occam's Razor as to why a conspiracy isn't true). Why is the idea of simplicity so important to our culture?


With any other theory or principle, once tested and failing that test, it is either revised or discarded. Occam's Razor failed the fractal test, and this is not the only example of it failing. Prior to the introduction of Quantum Theory, any simplest explanation could never have anticipated quantum physics. If the originators of Quantum Theory had listened to Occam's Razor, their theories would never have seen the light of day. Some of the most significant discoveries of science, have in fact depended upon scientists making those discoveries while abandoning Occam's Razor, in favor of a more complicated explanation in order to find that indeed the simplest explanation just didn't cut it. Considering the extent to which this principle fails to serve, one is left wondering why it remains in use by any self-respecting scientist, today. Perhaps this tired medieval way of thinking is mainly held onto by those who find its use opportunistic when they need to drag a scientific debate their way. And frankly that is a use lacking in integrity. It seems to me a more honest and even sincere approach is one with an opened mind ready to weigh the data against any theory simple or complex. For in the end, we find that even complexity can be deceptively simple. It is out of a relatively simple mathematical formula, placed within a repetitive computer routine, known as a recursive iterative process, that incredibly beautiful and intricate complex patterns can be generated, with the afore mentioned fractal geometry. On the surface it appears deceptively complex, while built out of an amazingly simple foundation.

Occam's Razor Cuts Both Ways


Original posting by Braincrave Second Life staff on Jan 7, 2011 at http://www.braincrave.com/viewblog.php?id=426

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