Occam's Razor Debunked?

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Diana Hignutt

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The guys that run the whacky web-bot project have tackled the long held logical buttress that is Occam's Razor. I think I agree with Clif High here, actually:

So the point of this missive is that Occam's razor is bogus and can easily be demonstrated by merely examining the context of universe and the language of expressions of Occam's razor. First note that universe is ANYTHING other than simple. In fact, complexity rules. Universe, if it ever was simple, instantly headed in the direction of the nearby hills of Complexity at breakneck speed and never looked back.

Complexity of systems and the total horror of complexity begetting increasing complexity is one of the primary fear triggers for the inner reptile as it demands, as part of the whole fear complex, that 'order' exist, 'in order that' (note the language we use when discussing it even), the 'safety' of the inner reptilian mind may be guaranteed. We note in passing that the fear aggregate is desperately seeking 'simple', as in its limited view of reality, 'simple' both exists, and implies the ability to 'control'. What does the inner reptile desperate try to control? Well....manifesting circumstances in universe (thus the big hoopdedo about the 'secret' and 'law of attraction' are yet other examples of traps for the inner reptile spun by TPTB) for one, and of course *any* control of manifesting circumstances in universe implies 'safety' for the inner reptile. And all this is dependent on a view of universe that has at its core the idea of simplicity.

http://www.halfpasthuman.com/horrors.html

He writes in a whacky style, heavy with his linquistic theories, but his point is sound.

What say you?
 

Maxx

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The guys that run the whacky web-bot project have tackled the long held logical buttress that is Occam's Razor. I think I agree with Clif High here, actually:



http://www.halfpasthuman.com/horrors.html

He writes in a whacky style, heavy with his linquistic theories, but his point is sound.

What say you?

I thought Ockham was a Nominalist? ie he thought that abstract categories had no ontologically distinct location (so to speak) and the only ontologically necessay entity was the Mind of God. So yes, I'm happy with plenty of complexity, not just the Mind of God.

I think for Ockham complexity was not the issue, but rather the positing of ontological reality for abstract categories -- outside the Mind of God anyway.
 

Devil Ledbetter

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The way I understand Occam's Razor is that you don't assume complexity where a simpler explanation will suffice. The simple v. complex is relative. Where Occam's razor comes in is to remove unnecessary complexity.

There is snow all over my front lawn. The simple explanation is it snowed. If we go into science of weather, the explanation grows more complex but not unnecessarily so. But if I posit that each flake of snow is an immortal faerie who's dedicated purpose is to land on my lawn, covering it in a blanket of white for my Christmas enjoyment, and that the faeries are silently singing my favorite Christmas song and though I can't hear it, I can feel the spirit of joy the faeries intend to bring to me, ... etc. then I'm introducing unnecessary complexity.

I might believe in the faeries and my explanation may be personally satisfying, but that doesn't make it true. Take Occam's razor and cut away all of the faerie talk away, and there is still a solid explanation for the snow to be there.
 

Kitty Pryde

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Let me quote Wikipedia:

The Razor generally recommends selecting the competing hypothesis that makes the fewest new assumptions (also known as postulates, entities) when the hypotheses be equal in other respects. For instance, they must both sufficiently explain available data in the first place. It is in this sense that Occam's razor is usually understood.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Occam's_razor#cite_note-1
The principle is often incorrectly summarized as "the simplest explanation is more likely the correct one". This summary is misleading, however, since the principle is actually focused on shifting the burden of proof in discussions. That is, the Razor is a principle that suggests we should tend towards simpler theories (see justifications section below) until we can trade some simplicity for increased explanatory power. Contrary to the popular summary, the simplest available theory is often a less accurate explanation.

The point is not that the universe is simple, or that the universe can be accurately described in simple ways. The point is that Occam's Razor guides our figgering-stuff-out processes to consider less-complex hypotheses. I think this guy missed the mark.
 

RichardLeon

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Cliff High vs William of Ockham?

I'm going with Mr Ockham. Mr High's record is best described - politely - as patchy, at best.
 

Maxx

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Ooh, that is polite. :)

Not to mention that Master Ockham probably never had anything like the supposed razor in mind.

Apparently the razor part was invented by Condillac in 1746. He called it the Rasoir des Nominaux (the Razor of the Nominalists). Or so WikiSource claims (I don't think I've ever read Condillac) -- see Wikisource cited below.

Not having read Condillac, I'm free to imagine that he imagined that the razor allowed for the trimming of some sort of hairy fuzz from around metaphysical conceptions, letting them shine forth in all their primitive, Proto-Heiddeggerian Glory.

http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Myth_of_Occam's_Razor
 

veinglory

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What nonsense. Occam's Razor (a.k.a. Lloyd Morgan's Canon, a.k.a. parsimony) does not posit anything is simple. It doesn't even say the simplest explanation of a given phenomenon is always true, just that - all others things being equal -- it is a reasonable assumption to be going on with.
 

Diana Hignutt

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I appreciate the input. My formal philosophy background is just a few college classes ages ago...
 

ColoradoGuy

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What nonsense. Occam's Razor (a.k.a. Lloyd Morgan's Canon, a.k.a. parsimony) does not posit anything is simple. It doesn't even say the simplest explanation of a given phenomenon is always true, just that - all others things being equal -- it is a reasonable assumption to be going on with.

Agreed. I think Occam was reacting to a variety of high medieval scholasticism which, in his opinion, multiplied complexity for the sheer joy (or perversity) of it.
 

Maxx

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I appreciate the input. My formal philosophy background is just a few college classes ages ago...

Same with me. I hadn't given much thought to Ockham and company. Scraping the surface though, it seems that Ockham was talking about ontology, not methodology. The razor move is a methodological ploy, at least as it is interpreted now and that methodological re-interpretation seems to be a matter of how the Enlightenment (or even proto-Enlightenment) saw itself as arising from basic clarifications in the realm of logic and method. And in seeing itself in those terms, it found heroic predecessors in the Nominalists. When the idea of "Modernism" (in the extended sense) came under some critical scrutiny, this reading of the Nominalists was shifted again and they were kicked out of the "really modern" camp and returned to the "really medieval" camp.

So given that Ockham was actually not interested in the razor method, but in something else; what was that other thing? It appears to have been ontology. And what is ontology? I'm not sure but I found that Leibniz said:

"Ontology or the science of something and of nothing, of being and not-being, of the thing and the mode of the thing, of substance and accident."
"Ontologiam seu scientiam de Aliquo et Nihilo, Ente et Non ente, Re et modo rei, Substantia et Accidente"
From: Louis Couturat - Opuscules et fragments inédits de Leibniz - Paris, Alcan, 1903. Reprinted Hildesheim, Georg Olms, 1961, p. 512 (Introductio ad Encyclopaediam Arcanam)
Now in: G. W. Leibniz Sämtliche Schriften und Briefe, VI Sektion: Philosophische Schriften, Band IV, Text n. 126 p. 527.

According to a website concerned with ontology:

http://www.ontology.co/ontology-definitions-one.htm
 

Lhun

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He writes in a whacky style, heavy with his linquistic theories, but his point is sound.

What say you?
I did a text search for the words of the actual statement of Occam's razor, and not only did the whole text not contain the correct quote once, it didn't even contain the most important words of it in any related context. So i don't even see the need to read it as whatever the author talks about is obviously not Occam's razor.

Twaddlespeak i say.


Addendum: The razor is: Do not multiply entities beyond necessity.
 

Kate Monster

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Ugh. This is almost as bad as the people who argue that there's no scientific proof for the theory of evolution because it's "just a theory." Deliberate (or, more generously, simply ignorant) misinterpretation of logic and science does not a convincing argument make.

As many other people have stated, Occam's Razor does not say that the universe is simple. What it says (more or less) is, "When you hear hoof beats, think horses, not zebras."
 

richcapo

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When it comes to human behavior, Occam's Razor rarely applies -- we're too complex and fucked up for it to, in my opinion.

Humans. Not zebras. Not horses.

_Richard
 
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poetinahat

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When it comes to human behavior, Occam's Razor rarely applies -- we're too complex and fucked up for it to, in my opinion.
There's a neat kind of semantic irony in this statement.

(note that I'm not agreeing or disagreeing with the proposition itself, but I just kind of liked the irony of the very simple expression of "too fucked up and complex")
 

Lhun

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When it comes to human behavior, Occam's Razor rarely applies -- we're too complex and fucked up for it to, in my opinion.
It kinda does actually, even if not easily applicable to any behaviour at all.
One well-known variant is: "Don't attribute to malice what can be sufficiently explained with stupidity"
 

blacbird

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Echo what DevilLed, Jimmy and several others have said. This guy is misrepresenting what the main principle of the Razor is and has always been, and is doing so in what appears to me to be deliberately obfuscatory lingo. I'll leave it to others to speculate on why he would want to do that.
 

screamingturnip

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Regardless I'm keeping it in my toolbox, right next to the Socratic method (sort of a homebrew version) and across from that bit about believing in heaven because it does you no harm if your wrong*

*I can't remember how exactly it goes and I don't use it for it's exact intended purpose anyways. Luckily you can't break the warranty on an idea, unlike a swiss army knife.

I also keep the theory of general relativity in there and I know I'm using that wrong.
 

kuwisdelu

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Even if we go with the summary "the simplest explanation is more likely to be correct," anyone versed in likelihood theory knows that maximizing the likelihood does not always yield a good estimate of the true value. Any estimator will be associated with some degree of variance, and sometimes the maximum likelihood estimator is not the minimum variance estimator. That's why biased estimators are sometimes preferred.

Conversely, when doing a likelihood ratio test, the deviance is formed taking for granted that the more complex model will have a greater likelihood. However, in statistics, we don't just go the model that has the greater likelihood. We look for significant differences in likelihood when doing parameter selection. Therefore, a more complex model must demonstrate a significant improvement in likelihood for it to be considered.

All that aside, the universe is actually pretty simple when you consider how complicated it could be. To be honest, while stuff like quantum mechanics and general relativity all looks very complex and complicated at first, it's amazing how often it boils down into very nice, well-behaved equations.

Now to see if anyone actually bothers to read this.
 

screamingturnip

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Even if we go with the summary "the simplest explanation is more likely to be correct," anyone versed in likelihood theory knows that maximizing the likelihood does not always yield a good estimate of the true value. Any estimator will be associated with some degree of variance, and sometimes the maximum likelihood estimator is not the minimum variance estimator. That's why biased estimators are sometimes preferred.

Conversely, when doing a likelihood ratio test, the deviance is formed taking for granted that the more complex model will have a greater likelihood. However, in statistics, we don't just go the model that has the greater likelihood. We look for significant differences in likelihood when doing parameter selection. Therefore, a more complex model must demonstrate a significant improvement in likelihood for it to be considered.

All that aside, the universe is actually pretty simple when you consider how complicated it could be. To be honest, while stuff like quantum mechanics and general relativity all looks very complex and complicated at first, it's amazing how often it boils down into very nice, well-behaved equations.

Now to see if anyone actually bothers to read this.
Well you purport to be a Hoosier so I'm obliged to hear you out. Despite the name, it's really more a rule of thumb than some law of the universe hence the loose language.

edit: Wow, I finally read the actual link. I'm sorry it took me so long...
Does he sway people often? That seemed like the textbook definition of off putting.
second edit: I mean no offense, mainly out of fear of retribution but still, I mean no offense.
 
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