What Occam’s Razor is, and what it isn’t.

Many people misuse and misunderstand what Occam’s Razor really is, and what it is not. A common misconception, based off of a gross misunderstanding of Occam’s Razor, is that the Razor favors “the simplest of arguments over others”, when in reality that is not the case. The Razor is a heuristic used in science and critical thought to weed out the least parsimonious of explanations, in other words, an explanation or argument that has too many unnecessary assumptions in order to make it work is less parsimonious than the explanation or argument that has fewer assumptions to make it work.

And, as explained in a previous entry, Occam’s Razor does indeed have its limits, sometimes the least parsimonious explanation actually turns out to be the correct explanation, and so one must be willing to test one’s assumptions in order to fully uncover the truth in order to improve our understanding.

Occam’s Razor is ultimately why the Ptolemaic system of geocentric astronomy was thrown out in favor of Copernican heliocentrism, because in order to work Ptolemaic geocentrism required too many cumbersome assumptions in order for it to explain the heavens, and when Copernicus introduced his revolutionary model of heliocentrism, which had far fewer assumptions needed in order for his model to accurately explain the heavens versus Ptolemy’s model, the paradigm shifted in favor of Copernicus over Ptolemy.

The Limits of Rationality

In combating fallacious arguments and fighting the ever growing tide of bullshit flowing in onto reason’s shores, one has a set of parameters used to comb out the shit from the treasure, these sets of parameters are what is known as a heuristic, and in a specific set of circumstances one’s heuristics are more than sufficient for discovering the validity of an argument, but sometimes it is not enough.

Sometimes rationality itself is not enough to discover the truth of something, one must be willing to test one’s assertions and assumptions. Take evolution, for example, if one were to use Occam’s Razor, then creationism would seem to be the more parsimonious explanation for existence than science itself, requiring only one assumption, that is, “Goddidit”, versus the several assumptions required for science to be true, that is, that the laws of nature we observe today have remained uniform throughout the past, and that a statement has to be testable to be shown to be true, if you can’t falsify it, then it ain’t truth.

But an observation of reality shows us that the exact opposite is true of creationism, “Goddidit” isn’t an explanation, it’s an excuse, a cop-out. If you don’t know how something works, just say “Goddidit” and the problem solves itself. It’s intellectually lazy, one of the biggest sins one can commit in my eyes. Absolutely everything once said to be of supernatural origination turned out to have natural causes.

People once said that diseases were caused by demons, now we know that they are caused by pathogens, and other natural causes. In some cases, what is seemingly more parsimonious than its competitors, requiring only a few assumptions versus the many of its competitors, isn’t necessarily true, and that is the reason why we must test our assumptions, even if the result defies common sense and understanding.