It’s exactly what it looks like.
According to Marriam-Webster, Occam’s Razor is a problem solving rule (scientific and philosophical), that says entities need not be multiplied more than necessary, i.e. explanations that posit fewer entities are to be preferred to explanations that posit more, i.e. the simplest explanation for something is most likely the correct explanation.
Like Schrödinger’s cat, I first heard about Occam’s Razor in an episode of The Big Bang Theory. *Have I been watching an unhealthy number of Big Bang Theory episodes? Yes.
In this particular episode, Leonard finds an important letter in their apartment in the trash. He then asks, “Sheldon, what’s this letter doing in the trash-can?”, Sheldon then replies by saying, “Well, there’s always the possibility that a trash-can spontaneously formed around the letter, but Occam’s Razor would suggest that someone threw it out”.
One could come up with a multitude of complex explanations as to how the letter ended up in the trash-can, but the simplest explanation is that someone put it there, ergo that is most likely the correct explanation. The rule is simply that the explanation with the fewest ifs is the correct explanation.
I learned about Occam’s Razor while I was thinking about intuition, and the fact that a lot of the time, I already know the answer to something, but I still insist on doing endless mental gymnastics to come up with the explanation that I want to believe. As a result of this realization dawning on me, I’ve recently stopped asking questions which I already knew the answers to, because I’m only doing myself a disservice by not trusting my intuition. Sza said it best, she said, “Sometimes asking questions is disrespectful to ur own intuition. You know wtf goin on . Now act accordingly”.
Occam’s Razor is a heuristic, in that it is a device used to help scientists develop their own theoretic models. This rule is not set in stone, rather it is a rule of thumb.
When you think of ‘Occam’s razor’, you might think of a man shaving with a razor, which isn’t too far off from the message that the name of the principle is supposed to relay. The idea is to metaphorically ‘shave off’ improbable options in order to arrive at the explanation.
For example, say I go out and I meet someone that I like and I give them my number. Days pass and they don’t call me. I might say, maybe they had to flee the country urgently because they were a secret spy and their identity was uncovered and they had to smash their phone to lose all trace of contact. While that might have happened, there are too many entities being multiplied far more than necessary. A simpler explanation would be that they just don’t want to call me, which is more likely to be correct. An example they used to give when describing this principle was that if someone has a headache, it is far-fetched to assume that they have the black death. While a headache was a symptom of the black death, it was more probable to say that the person had the common cold. * I also take issue with the fact that they used to name illnesses or anything undesirable as ‘black’ or ‘dark’. I digress.
Also, another issue arises when we say that the simplest explanation is most likely the correct one, because we don’t all have the same idea of simplicity. In the example I gave above of giving someone my number, the simple explanation to me would be that they person just doesn’t want to call me, while to someone else the simple explanation would be that the person lost their phone. Simplicity, therefore, is in the eye of the beholder.
An interesting example I read about relates to the origin of the universe. Some people may say the simplest explanation of the Universe coming into existence is that God created the universe, while to others, that explanation contains too many assumptions. It is much simpler to say that the universe came into existence as a result of the big bang. Which explanation do you think contains fewer assumptions? Think about it.
I had to do some introspection on this theory because I’m guilty of this game of mental gymnastics in order to convince myself of explanations that are much more improbable than the truth. I’m human, so that’s ok, but it’s even better that I’m able to recognize this flaw.
Truth is, I already know wtf goin on, and probably so do you. Shave off the improbable explanations and maybe you’ll find that the simplest explanation is the answer. Sometimes, maybe things are exactly what they look like.
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