Wednesday, May 28, 2008

What's Occam's Razor & can you shave with it?


Occam's Razor is not a shaving device owned by someone named Occam. No! It is a logical instrument whereby one can distinguish between hypothesis in order to arrive at a more reasonable solution.

Occam's Razor states that all things being equal, we should choose the hypothesis that does not "multiply variables" beyond necessity. For example, if you wanted to guess at who stole your lunch out of the refrigerator, you wouldn't guess that it was a Labrador Retriever who unlocked the front door, opened the refrigerator door, grabbed your grub and disappeared without leaving a trace. You would assume it was your hungry roommate. But Why?

If you would guess it was a dog, you would be "multiplying variables" beyond what was necessary. Why would it be a Labrador Retriever? Both your roommate and this mysterious dog are hungry. But your roommate knows how to unlock doors, dogs usually don't.

Likewise, if you want to talk about the origin of matter, don't multiply variables, just look for a natural explanation.

18 comments:

Matthew said...

I wasn't confusing spontaneous generation with abiogenesis, rather, I was entirely unfamiliar with the latter theory (that being why I asked, as I could not think of an alternative theory to spontaneous generation - i.e. not a 'straw-man' argument, but rather a serious and sincere question). I could have guessed, of course, that the response would be something along these lines, however, had I not had the incredible lapse in judgment to forget the huge difference between my definition of life and yours.

Thanks for the explanation, it was very helpful and informative.

On a side-note, do you (personally) believe in the sanctity of life?

SteveMudSkipper said...

Thats good for you Matthew. I was looking around on the Answers in Genesis site, and people with PhDs can't make the distinctions you can readily see.

What do you mean by "sanctity of life." Give me a definition so I can answer it clearly.

Are you talking about abortion, killing people, war, euthanasia?

Matthew said...

Oh, I'm not referring to any of those rather specific issues (people who do believe in the sanctity of life can't seem to agree on those), I was referring to the simplest definition of the term: to be sacred means to be set apart, so what I'm asking is: Is there anything that 'sets apart' life? Is it special, or merely a combination of complex mechanisms and chemicals?

SteveMudSkipper said...

Can I say... both?
Life is both special and made up of particles. Particles and chemicals are also 'special,' take for instance Brownian Motion effects on dust particles.

I'm not trying to be obtuse, but nothing 'sets apart' life. It is what it is, in it's totality.

There are things which we would consider more useful and inspiring, but I do not see how any doctrine would make it MORE so.

Is a flower MORE beautiful because you believe in god?

Matthew said...

Thanks, I think I understand what you're saying.

"Is a flower MORE beautiful because you believe in god?"

Can I say... both? Haha, no, believing in God has never had any impact on how beautiful a flower, a tree, a girl, or anything else is. Well, actually, I take that back, it probably hasn't had an impact on how beautiful anything is. I can't say that for sure because I've always believed in God. I will say this, however: KNOWING God DID make a difference in how beautiful EVERYTHING is. So yes, flowers are more beautiful to me now than they used to be, but not because I believe in God. Rather, once my knowledge of God transitioned from intellectual suspicion to experiential certainty, I began to see things more clearly. Just don't ask me to explain how flowers are more beautiful, because that's one feat I'm not sure I'm up to. ;)

Hopefully that made at least a little sense...

SteveMudSkipper said...

I'm not sure I follow, but I will say, one can feel these things independently of being a Christian. That would lead me to believe that there is some kind of universal biological phenomenon behind this.

This can also be achieved with certain drugs (such as Ecstasy) and circumstances, such as almost dying. So to me, being a Christian isn't necessary for that. It's a "Multiplying Variable."

Matthew said...

First, you've assumed that I was citing personal experience as evidence - which I wasn't. I was merely answering your question.

Second, you said, "one can feel these things independently of being a Christian." Trust me, I DEFINITELY already knew that. I would never ask someone to come to Christ because of spiritual experiences anyway, in fact I would probably try to talk someone OUT of coming to Christ for those reasons. However, you've made an assumption here that needs to be pointed out. You said, "That would lead me to believe that there is some kind of universal biological phenomenon behind this." That's assuming that if God did exist then only His true followers would have spiritual experiences. While there are some Christians who foolishly assume that any non-Christian who has a spiritual experience is insane, I don't make such assumptions because they are neither logical nor Biblical. False gods DO exist, and their followers DO feel their presence. Again, trust me, I know. I've been there.

"So to me, being a Christian isn't necessary for that." Necessary for what? I never even told you what my experiences were.

SteveMudSkipper said...

You used "me" to describe your flower experience. I assumed it was a personal experience.

What are you trying to say anyway? I really don't know.

Matthew said...

"You used "me" to describe your flower experience. I assumed it was a personal experience."

Yes, it was.

"What are you trying to say anyway? I really don't know."

You asked if believing in God made flowers more beautiful. I said 'no' but knowing God did make flowers (and pretty much everything else) more beautiful. Then I explained that I wasn't appealing to personal experience as evidence for God's existence. I also went off on a rabbit-trail about how the false gods of other religions are every bit as real as my God, simply less powerful and less honest about their true nature - explaining to you that I don't call people of other faiths 'crazies' for saying they've had spiritual encounters with their god.

Did that help?

SteveMudSkipper said...

First you said it was, then it wasn't, then it was, then it wasn't.

Lets just drop it.

Matthew said...

Lol, okay, my point was that there's a huge difference between believing in God and knowing God. (I used to believe in Him and it didn't change anything, but when I knew Him it changed everything)

Do you believe the universe had a beginning, or has it always existed?

Matthew said...

On a side-note (I felt the need to post a comment that was relevant to THIS article - sorry, Steve, I started this conversation on the wrong blog post), William of Ockham believed in God and said this in regards to the razor: "For nothing ought to be posited without a reason given, unless it is self-evident (literally, known through itself) or known by experience or proved by the authority of Sacred Scripture."

Source: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/ockham/#4.1

SteveMudSkipper said...

Everyone who has ever lived was flawed in some respect.

I believe William of Ockham made a mistake when referring to the bible.
Why would the bible be an exception to the Razor (because god whispered in Bill's ear)? Why does he say it has authority?

We need reasons.

Matthew said...

Ockham believed "the only truly necessary entity is God." Don't ask me why, I'm not him. Certainly, it would seem, if anyone was going to realize that Occam's Razor would present an issue with the existence of God, it would have been William of Ockham. While your suggestion is certainly not original, it was also certainly not the contention of the one who proposed the device you are using for support.

SteveMudSkipper said...

I should ask you why, that is the entire point of the Razor!

Matthew said...

Apparently Ockham had a different "point" in mind for his razor. In fact, the razor "never allows us to deny putative entities; at best it allows us to refrain from positing them in the absence of known compelling reasons for doing so." So, it would seem, the point of the razor was not to cast doubt upon the existence of anything, the least of which God.

SteveMudSkipper said...

Actually, it does allow us to cast doubt. That is the point. If we could not distinguish between two hypothesis, we might as well believe in Hobgoblins, fairies, Leprechauns.

They are unlikely, because they multiply hypothesis, just like your (and Ockham's) God theory does.

BTW, it was almost illegal to not believe in God during the life of William of Ockham, so I don't doubt that he would add an addendum to his Razor, just to keep the authorities at by (just my opinion.)

Matthew said...

"BTW, it was almost illegal to not believe in God during the life of William of Ockham, so I don't doubt that he would add an addendum to his Razor, just to keep the authorities at by (just my opinion.)"

I'm pretty sure Friar William of Ockham was a true believer (the whole 'friar' thing seems to suggest an amount of devotion you wouldn't expect to find in someone who was just playing the game).

My point is that William of Ockham obviously didn't see the same "point" to the razor that you do, so use whatever logic makes sense to you, but don't pretend William would have agreed with you.