Occam's Razor Debunked?

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kuwisdelu

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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.

Oh, I agree, I just thought I'd throw in some semi-rigorous theoretical rebuking for the hell of it.
 

Maxx

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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.

I think some of this lingo is left over from the brief complexity craze of the early 1990s. I think about all that is left of it is the Sante Fe Institute:

http://www.santafe.edu/

But things began to look less complex in 1995 (according to the Sante Fe Institute's own history):

Some researchers in mainstream science felt that complexity science was long on promise but short on results. The criticism culminated in a June 1995 Scientific American article by senior writer John Horgan that openly mocked not only the science of complexity but the scientists doing it. The article, today regarded at the Institute as a wakeup call, caused many in the complexity community to do some soul searching about their field.
 
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richcapo

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Occam's Razor rarely applies to human behavior, I have noticed. With all our biases, preconceived notions, intellectual limitations, chemical imbalances, anger, love and hate, trust and paranoia, obsessions and aversions, laziness, etc., it's all too easy and common for us not to do the simplest thing, in my opinion.

_Richard
 
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Bartholomew

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I'm not sure what Occam's Razor has to do with reptiles.
 

kuwisdelu

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Occam's Razor rarely applies to human behavior, I have noticed. With all our biases, preconceived notions, intellectual limitations, chemical imbalances, anger, love and hate, trust and paranoia, obsessions and aversions, laziness, etc., it's all too easy and common for us not to do the simplest thing, in my opinion.

_Richard

I disagree. I think humans by-and-large almost always do the simplest thing.

What they rarely do is the most rational thing.
 

richcapo

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I disagree. I think humans by-and-large almost always do the simplest thing.

What they rarely do is the most rational thing.
Rather then walk up to the television and change the channel -- a five second chore at most -- I just spent a good half a minute trying to stretch my legs long enough to fish my remote control off the floor. So damn stubborn, I can be.

People all too often complicate things -- make unnecessary work for themselves. They work harder, not smarter.

_Richard
 

JimmyB27

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Rather then walk up to the television and change the channel -- a five second chore at most -- I just spent a good half a minute trying to stretch my legs long enough to fish my remote control off the floor. So damn stubborn, I can be.

People all too often complicate things -- make unnecessary work for themselves. They work harder, not smarter.

_Richard
That makes sense. If you hadn't stretched for the remote, every subsequent channel change would also have necessitated rising from your seat and walking across the room.
 

richcapo

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That makes sense. If you hadn't stretched for the remote, every subsequent channel change would also have necessitated rising from your seat and walking across the room.
No, because after that, I put the remote back on the floor and struggled to fish it up again each time I wanted to change the channel -- just to see if I could do it, rather than simply keep it by my side. And the first time, I could have simply walked to, and picked up, the remote in a split second, rather than try to reel it in with my feet like an obsessive compulsive stooge.

People aren't always efficient; we don't always do the simplest thing. Pull out a map, turn on the GPS, or ask for directions from the guy in the gas station one hundred yards away? All easy to do, but all too many of us would rather take the hard way and drive around aimlessly for hours because pride gets in the way of doing what would be easiest.

We may play head games, and/or we may have biases, and/or we may be stubborn, and/or we may be religious, and/or we may do and be all sorts of things that can, and often do, preclude us from going the simplest route.

_Richard
 
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veinglory

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Occam's Razor is about explaining behavior, not predicting it. It doesn't matter how irrational the behavior is at all, you don't need to add even more irrationality to explain it.
 

richcapo

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If people always did the simplest thing, we wouldn't have to remind them to always do the simplest thing.

_Richard
 

Maxx

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If people always did the simplest thing, we wouldn't have to remind them to always do the simplest thing.

_Richard


I thought the point of Ockham's razor was not simplicity, but the avoidance of introducing categories or functions (originally ontological, now methodological) into explanations unless they clarified things.
 

richcapo

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I thought the point of Ockham's razor was not simplicity, but the avoidance of introducing categories or functions (originally ontological, now methodological) into explanations unless they clarified things.
People all too often mess that up, too.

_Richard
 

JimmyB27

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I thought the point of Ockham's razor was not simplicity, but the avoidance of introducing categories or functions (originally ontological, now methodological) into explanations unless they clarified things.
Exactly. In richcapo's remote control example, his behaviour is adequately explained by the fact that humans are irrational beings - I'm sure there's much more a psychologist could say on that.
One way we might break Occam's razer in this case is to suggest that perhaps he was briefly inhabited by the Irrational Fairy, who takes over people's bodies and do silly things.
 

veinglory

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Psychology is essential the science of explaining the human deviation from strict rationality.
 

benbradley

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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.
The one I bolded partly describes Pascal's Wager, yet another interesting possible topic for this subforum.
I think some of this lingo is left over from the brief complexity craze of the early 1990s. I think about all that is left of it is the Sante Fe Institute:

http://www.santafe.edu/

But things began to look less complex in 1995 (according to the Sante Fe Institute's own history):

Some researchers in mainstream science felt that complexity science was long on promise but short on results. The criticism culminated in a June 1995 Scientific American article by senior writer John Horgan that openly mocked not only the science of complexity but the scientists doing it. The article, today regarded at the Institute as a wakeup call, caused many in the complexity community to do some soul searching about their field.
It wasn't the last time there was such a mocking. I'm reminded of "A New Kind of Science," essentially one brilliant scientist's self-published tome describing his ten-year study of cellular automata. It was highly anticipated, but after publication it was widely dissed, partly for the author's pomposity, and partly for the apparent overhyping of the importance of the topic. Complex, "life-like" (admittedly a subjective phrase) systems can indeed emerge from simple rules, but that had already been known for decades at least.

On the other hand, this guy did a lot of excellent work without overstating his conclusions.
 
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kuwisdelu

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If people always did the simplest thing, we wouldn't have to remind them to always do the simplest thing.

_Richard

I wasn't aware anyone reminded anyone to do the simplest thing.

I thought we reminded them to do the most rational thing.
 

veinglory

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I thought this thread was about Occam's razor, which says the two tend to coincide when it comes to hypothesising.
 

kuwisdelu

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I thought this thread was about Occam's razor, which says the two tend to coincide when it comes to hypothesising.

Touche.

I tend to consider it more of as a penalty to a loss function.

Such as,

Best or correct explanation/action "A" = argmin{ - ||strength of A|| + lambda*(complexity of A) }

for some constant lambda.
 
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richcapo

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I wasn't aware anyone reminded anyone to do the simplest thing.

I thought we reminded them to do the most rational thing.
K.I.S.S.: Keep it simple, stupid.

It's a pretty well known saying (and please don't think it's directed at you).

_Richard
 
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Actually his argument falls short because it is in its entirety a false dichotomy. A false dichotomy is an argument that only gives one of two choices. As in you can either choose to have a simple universe or a complex one, and there is no other options.

And it is also based on the wrong definition. Occam's Razor states that one must not multiply entities unnecessarily. Complex questions often have holes in them and often need even further explanations to fill in the gaps, which is why many scientists shun them.

Which is why scientists have problems with things like UFOs being alien beings, and other conspiracy theories. These things always have too many gaps in them that only raise further questions.

Keeping things simple actually comes from Darwin's Theory on Evolution, which was in reference to his theory of evolution, in which he states that the simplest answer is often the best.

I'd guess that there are probably both simple and complex things in our universe.
 

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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.

I share your understanding of the meaning of Occam's Razor. However, some seem to consider Occam's Razor to be a claim (i. e., a proposition). It is not, in my understanding. Rather, it is a principle, or, more specifically, a word of advice. Since Occam's Razor is a recommendation, and not an opinion, it is not subject to refutation, any more than is the advice that Polonius offers Laertes. Instead, Occam's advice may be adopted (i. e., acted upon) or not. (The principle may imply certain assumptions and claims, but that is another matter, as, in Occam's formulation of his recommendation, no argument is made per se.)
 
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blacbird

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Rather then walk up to the television and change the channel -- a five second chore at most -- I just spent a good half a minute trying to stretch my legs long enough to fish my remote control off the floor. So damn stubborn, I can be.

People all too often complicate things -- make unnecessary work for themselves. They work harder, not smarter.

Boy is this Truth. Just this morning I had an example of it. I called a client to report on a project I was working for him, simply to pass along two numbers related to the analysis. All he had to do was write them down on a piece of paper, but NOOOOOO, he had to boot his computer, hunt for the correct data file, open it, find the proper spreadsheet line and column, and THEN I could give him the numbers. The ten-second chore took about four minutes.

caw
 
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