When something is unknown, does Occam's Razor always take over?

Discussion in 'General Science & Technology' started by garbonzo, Jul 25, 2013.

  1. Layman Totally Internally Reflected Valued Senior Member

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    Precisely my point, I don't know of any example where Occam's Razor has been able to find the correct explanation of something that is currently unknown. It only seems to reassure things that have already been previously discovered by someone else that is just unknown to that person. Then it is still like just taking a guess, and I don't think anyone using this type of logic has then been correct about a majority of things that just didn't learn it from somewhere that it was actually proven by other methods.
     
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  3. Dufoe Registered Member

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    Not sure what you mean by humans evolved in the last 10,000 years but asides from that, there is scientific evidence for a few theories on how we evolved from our more animalistic ways into culture etc... there is no evidence that we landed here on space ships 10,000 years ago, and actually there is a TON of evidence to the contrary. So the available theories for this question are not on equal footing.

    This is a common mistake for people not formally educated in the sciences. Remember, First you have to start with two theories that have an equal footing in evidence before you use Occam's Razor to determine the most likely.


    Also keep in mind, evolution has been shown time and time again without exception in all creatures we've studied. So this is partly what makes it a simple explanation, evolution is apparent in all known/studied species, it is simple to assume the same process was at work with us. To think otherwise is ego centric.

    Also, just saying something simply doesnt make it simple. You can't say "we were just brought here by a spaceship" and expect any real scientific mind to see this as a simple explanation. It still doesn't explain our evolution, and it introduces a whole new set of complex problems such as who sent us here, why were we sent here and how did THEY evolve. You now have taken on the evolution of 2 species instead of one, there are hundreds of problems and questions this raises while solving absolutely nothing that current theories don't already explain.

    It really seems silly to argue over this, it's an accepted principle of logic that mathematicians rely on daily. Arguing against it is just silly and ignorant. The only people who argue against it are those who don't understand it. Which is sad as it really is one of the simplest to understand, I just don't see how anyone can come to the conclusion "In modern science Occam's Razor would be the quickest way to complete nonsense." It's almost funny how much irony is packed into that statement. I hope you take some time to educate yourself as you will absolutely fall in love with the STEM subjects. Just make sure you are open to complex thoughts before trying to learn about these topics or you will get them as confused as you have Occam's Razor.

    I hope OP has the answer he wants, and I think it's great your interested in the sciences. =o) Good luck to you!
     
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  5. Layman Totally Internally Reflected Valued Senior Member

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    From what I have heard about it in the media and then trying to use it just didn't work out. It is just that every time I have tried to use this type of logic I then came to complete nonsense. I have never been able to come up with a single example where it would be useful or that I could be rest assured that I have found the correct answer. Then every attempt to use it has failed for me. I still don't know of one example where it actually works, never mind a counterexample.
     
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  7. Dufoe Registered Member

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    It is used consistently as a basis for subjects like Probability Theory and Statistics. There are two huge examples for you. Also take a look into Bayesian model comparisons.

    When you see an issue with a concept that seems generally accepted the best bet is to look at it mathematically. Since there is a chance you simply misunderstand it then any attempt to come up with an example of it's usefulness is intrinsically flawed. It's called Syllogism and it is a logical fallacy. But honestly the concept of Occam's Razor and it's many variants can be found at the very root of so many subjects and pursuits.
     
  8. Layman Totally Internally Reflected Valued Senior Member

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    So then could you give a specific example where it is used and been proven to work? Maybe, I could use it better if I saw one.
     
  9. Dufoe Registered Member

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    Also, don't ever get your scientific info from the media, make sure you study it first in actual text books. You can find most in PDF format for free online, just make sure you read it from a reputable printed source like a university textbook before you make any conclusions. And most certainly do not listen to anyone on here, including myself when it comes to anything. It's good to ask questions but always find out for yourself, 99% of the people on here who offer explanations are incorrect and probably never even studied the sciences formally outside of high school. But give those searches a shot and see what you learn about it. It's not that fascinating of a topic though, I would learn it and move on to something like QM. Much more interesting and it will keep you intrigued and busy for a long time!
     
  10. Dufoe Registered Member

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  11. Sarkus Hippomonstrosesquippedalo phobe Valued Senior Member

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    The razor does not determine things to be "correct".
    It merely provides a guide as to which should be the preferred explanation between competing theories that all explain the phenomenon equally.
    At no point should the razor be used to say "This is the correct version:..."
    Instead it is used to say: "We'll go with this explanation, as it involves less redundancy, plurality, and unknowns, until such time as another explanation is shown to be more precise."

    In maths, if you're asked to define a straight line on a graph, do you choose:
    (A) Y = mX + C
    (B) Y = mpX/s + 2CD

    Both can adequately describe the same line in exactly the same level of detail.
    They are equivalent in terms of descriptive ability of the line.

    But the latter has more redundancy and unknowns than the former (more variables and/or constants).
    The razor would therefore lead one to go with the former explanation rather than the latter.

    That's all the razor is.
    It is a tool to help determine a preferable explanation... and it is the cornerstone of what many use to arrive at what they consider to be the most rational explanation.
     
  12. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    There is no surviving statement of it in Ockham's own words. He refers to the principle routinely, but the closest we have to the original is a fragment:

    Nunquam ponenda est pluralitas sine necessitate. "Never is plurality to be posited without necessity."​

    Scholars wrote in Latin in the 14th century. If he had written this in Middle English, it would be like translating Chaucer.

    The closest we can come to today's common vernacular version is, "The simplest solution is usually the best." Note that it doesn't say "always," so in every case we have an obligation to prove it. The only way to do that is to test it.

    From this derives the clearer but slightly more elaborate rendition I started with:

    Always test the simplest solution first.​

    I did not mean to imply that this was Ockham's own writing--it's not even my own. I see that statement of it frequently, but yes, the ones you all have posted are also in common use. I just like this one better because it seems clearer and truer to the principles of science as we now know it. The scientific method was merely a scholar's dream six and a half centuries ago, and Ockham helped turn that dream into a reality.

    It was first printed in 1852, in a Modern English translation, 500 years after Ockham's death. Even then it appears that no one had Ockham's original Latin writing and the principle had simply been handed down for half a millennium.
     
  13. Captain Kremmen All aboard, me Hearties! Valued Senior Member

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    The simplest translation is usually the best.
    Following the Occam rule.
     
  14. Sarkus Hippomonstrosesquippedalo phobe Valued Senior Member

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    I would concur only within a strict scientific setting.
    It may just be a matter of semantics, but your requirement for "testing" implies an active approach, whereas the razor is also one of mere practicality... where the testing is through on-going passive experience, and also merely not to over complicate things unnecessarily.
    E.g. If you're crossing the road and you see a car coming towards you, assume that it is going to carry on doing so, rather than an alternative of thinking it might be plucked out of the air by a benevolent giant before it reaches you.
    There is no need to test - merely to accept the "simplest" (for want of a better word) until evidence contradicts.
    Understood, although the tone of the language was one of (misplaced) definitiveness(?).
    Anyhoo, we otherwise agree on the majority, so no need to labour anything.
     
  15. Grumpy Curmudgeon of Lucidity Valued Senior Member

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    Avoid unnecessarily complex explanations. It's just plain common sense. That is the heart of Occam.

    Layman

    You really don't know much about anything, and what you think you do know is mostly wrong.

    Occam's Razor is not a mechanism to investigate anything, it cannot be used to find anything, it is a general principle, sometimes articulated as KISS(Keep It Simple, Stupid), a sound principle indeed. Use Occam's Razor to shave off unnecessary elements from within an explanation(Parsimony, enough to explain all aspects and not one bit less or more). As in the simplistic example of Natural Selection verses Theistic Selection, the theism is a scientifically unnecessary addition to the perfectly adequate and parsimonious natural selection explanation so we use Occam's Razor to hone it down to only what is needed without our prejudices and beliefs being injected simply because of our biases or beliefs. And that is all Occam's Razor is. It is actually more a tool for use in reasoning and rhetoric(even in math, but there it is much more rigid, "...and then a miracle occurred" is never a valid part of an equation), one that scientists also find useful. This is more the philosophy of science instead of a hard core, unchanging principle of science. It is a compass, not a guide post, it points in the general direction you should go, not to the specific path you will find.

    Grumpy

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  16. billvon Valued Senior Member

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    Occam's Razor doesn't "find" anything. Neither does calculus. Both are just tools.

    It's not even doing that. It just says that if your guesses are way too complex and byzantine, and that a simpler explanation adequately explains the phenomenon, your guesses are probably wrong.
     
  17. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    Occam's Razor is not a tool for finding explanations. It is a principle that we use for guidance when we set up a line of research.

    It is the observation, experimentation, testing, logical deduction, peer review, and all the other steps in the research that look for the explanations and, eventually, find them.

    Occam's Razor just helps it go a little faster and cheaper. Nothing more, nothing less than that.

    If 75% of the human population were scientists, so there were massive resources available to compose and test possible solutions, we might not need Occam's Razor. We could test all of the solutions simultaneously.

    And as the "real" work of civilization (e.g., producing and distributing food) becomes easier and requires less human labor (due to advanced technologies such as transportation, industrialization and now computers and the internet), that day may come!
     
  18. Layman Totally Internally Reflected Valued Senior Member

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    If I used Occam's Razor to answer the question I would have a 100% chance of being wrong. The correct answer would be; y = mx + b
     
  19. Layman Totally Internally Reflected Valued Senior Member

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    I think you only come to this conclusion because you use Occam's Razor more frequently than most people in trying to find correct explanations, that it has been mentioned by several people that you shouldn't do.
     
  20. Layman Totally Internally Reflected Valued Senior Member

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    I would go further than that saying that Occam's Razor is not even a good tool for finding explanations. In my own opinion, I don't even think it would be a good guide for setting up a line of research or forming a hypothesis.

    Given that I don't have any means to perform experiments or test, I think it has failed almost every mind experiment that I have ever done considering it. Then it would be a bad thing to do in drawing hypothesis for experiments. I really don't think any mind experiment could find the correct result from continual use of Occam's Razor.
     
  21. billvon Valued Senior Member

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    Uh - right. That's what he said.
     
  22. Layman Totally Internally Reflected Valued Senior Member

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    Well, don't you have to form a hypothesis for the first step in the scientific method? Then from that determine experiments to then test that hypothesis? If Occam's Razor is a step to then determine what experiments to take then wouldn't this be a part in formulating your hypothesis or your prediction of what will or will not happen? There has to be some sort of reasoning or reason in order to make you want to perform such experiments in the first place, then it would mean that Occam's Razor would be a part of the thinking process in order to formulate your hypothesis that would then involve reasoning. If it is not sound reasoning then the experiment will most likely fail. I think using it would increase your chances of your experiment just being a shot in the dark.
     
  23. billvon Valued Senior Member

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    Yes. Occam's Razor is not a good tool for finding those hypotheses. It is, at best, a method of downselecting from a number of hypotheses.
     

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