Is it true, that when (other things being equal) given a choice of explanations for something that the simplest explanation is most often the best? Being of medieval origin, should this principle of simplicity still be elevated to such an important part of our scientific approach, today?
Many scientists even still sight the medieval principle of Occam’s Razor also spelled, “Ockham’s Razor” to justify their pet “simplest explanation” over any competing theories that in their view are “too complicated”. An odd argument, in light of increasing discoveries that our very Universe seems to be growing in complexity over time, and apparently has been doing so for at least 13.7 billion years.
Occam’s Razor or Ockham’s Razor
Occam’s Razor, named after the medieval philosopher, William of Occam, (Ockham) can be stated, “Given a choice between two explanations, choose the simplest — the explanation which requires the fewest assumptions.” Upon researching Occam’s razor, I found that scientists have many different ways to state this general principle. Here are a few of the most prevalent.
“The simplest explanation for some phenomenon is more likely to be accurate than more complicated explanations.”
“The simplest explanation is usually the best.”
“The explanation requiring the fewest assumptions is most likely to be correct.”
This is also known as the Principle of Parsimony or the Principle of Simplicity, and is a criterion for deciding among scientific theories or explanations. The Principle of Simplicity can be stated, “One should always choose the simplest explanation of a phenomenon, the one that requires the fewest leaps of logic.” Occam’s razor, and the Principle of Simplicity sound fine in theory, but sometimes the simplest explanation does not actually reflect reality. You see, as the title states, “Occam’s Razor cuts both ways”.
There be Order in Chaos