OccamsRazor

Wikipedia:Occam's Razor says something along the lines of “Given two equally predictive theories, choose the simplest.” Basically it is an argument of style. Occam doesn’t know which explanation is correct or not. He just likes the simpler explanation.

The tricky part is when we are talking about aesthetics, rhetorics – things that concern humans. The simplest chair is not the most comfortable to sit in, the simplest house not the most covetet one, the simplest mind not the preferred partner.

On a wiki, WordMagic and OccamsRazor are in perpetual conflict when creating new pages: Should new pages be created or not? Every new page is a potential new word in our LinkLanguage. But is it necessary? Can we not express our thoughts without introducing new concepts?

There is no rule to help us decide whether Occam’s Razor should be applied. It depends on what you want.

See also MeatBall:OccamsRazor.

The page LessRedundancy talks about a related principal of non-duplication of information in knowledge repositories such as the internet, and about how wikis allow for the dynamic elimination of redundancy in a way that static information sources do not. – BayleShanks


…Occam doesn’t know which explanation is correct or not. He just likes the simpler explanation…

I think this is totally misunderstanding Occam. Let’s e. g. talk about the problem of “falling stones”. Theory one is the Newton’s idea of gravity. Theory two is mathematically the same but assumes that on any stone a “stone spirit” is sitting who is laughing and their laughter is the actual driving force. Obviously both theories provide the same predictions, but the second adds additional entities like “stone spirit” and “laughter”. Occam’s razor is an argument to rule out such superfluous - often metaphysical - complexities. – HelmutLeitner

Sure, Occam’s Razor tells you to rule out such superfluous complexities. But Occam doesn’t tell you what is correct. Popper says that given two predictive theories, the one that makes more predictions and can be falsified more easily is to be preferred. But if stone spirits make stones falls just like Newton’s gravity does, then Popper’s scientific method does not help: Both theories explain current observations and both theories make the same predictions. We like simpler theories because we like simpler theories – not because they are “correct”! Occam’s Razor is not part of the scientific method. – AlexSchroeder

I see it as a rule of thumb for figuring things out, in addition to a way of throwing out metaphysics.

It’s worth pointing out that Occam’s razor would completely discount modern science, were it revealed in it’s entirety in 1800. “It’s so… complicated!” Yes, it’s more accurate, but they were solving different problems then, and there were simpler solutions that did not require the immensity of modern day scientific knowledge.

If you were to start, in 1800 with strings- you know. “Guys, guys, guys- no, let me tell you. There are strings. And then quarks. And there are atomic nuclei, and…” Occam’s just going to slice you to ribbons.

Popper doesn’t apply to the problem, because there are never competing scientific theories that have different complexity but exactly the same predictions. Occam is only against unnecessary entities, not against complexity. The common place interpretation of Occam as “simpler is better” is a misinterpretation that completely misses his point. – HelmutLeitner

Do you care to restate Occam’s point so that I can understand why you are saying “completely misses his point?” (emphasis mine) I ask because I am not really interested in the fine discussion on the Wikipedia page – I’m mostly concerned with Occam’s Razor not being based on empirical evidence but on categories such as “neatness”, “simplicity”, “elegance” – even if he didn't say so in his original quote I believe that to be the interesting and useful part for us today. – AlexSchroeder

Occam talks about the number of “entities” (ideas, concepts), a meaning that is lost by talking about simplicity or elegance. Occam also talks about “necessity” in relationship to scientific explanations for experiences. For example, to describe free falling bodies, the idea of “gravity” is not enough, one needs the idea of “air” and the idea of “air resistance” slowing movements. So there are additional entities, the theory also becomes more complex but fits experiments much better, so all this is justified with respect to OccamsRazor. – HelmutLeitner

I think OccamsRazor is a reasonable rule for tie-breaking, after evaluating competing theories on other factors (e.g. accuracy of predictions, falsifiability, etc.). Which I guess means: I agree with Helmut.

I agree. The paraphase of Occam’s razor that I use is this, “Do not multiply things unnecessarily”. The word unnecessarily is key here: remove everything superfluous. This statment, often attributed to Einstein, is equivalent, IMO: “Things should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.” – DrewAdams?


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