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Friday, 4 May 2018

Occam's razor

Whenever someone doesn’t answer me within an anticipated timeframe, my mind often starts to assume that something bad must have happened to that person. The more time elapses, the wilder the explanatory scenarios become in my mind. It used to be difficult for me to accept the simplest of answers: the other person does not feel an urgency to respond. In other words, I can wait. When you care about someone, you assume reciprocation.

In March 2016, a friend told me she had arrived at Amsterdam Airport. She said she stayed at relatives and was scheduled to visit me within a couple of days to attend my birthday. Suddenly all communication stopped. Her assumed disappearance led to my 5 blogs called The Vanishing. My attempts to find her became an embarrassment to her employer and her family, who both knew the truth. My scenarios had never assumed the simplest explanation: she was fooling me.

The above is an illustration of a problem-solving principle called Occam’s razor, in which the simplest of explanations most likely gives the best explanation.

Wiki: “Occam's razor (also Ockham's razor or Ocham's razor; Latin: lex parsimoniae "law of parsimony") is the problem-solving principle that, when presented with competing hypothetical answers to a problem, one should select the one that makes the fewest assumptions. The idea is attributed to William of Ockham (c. 1287–1347), who was an English Franciscan friar, scholastic philosopher, and theologian.”

The above also applies to scientific hypotheses which are often (very) complicated (eg, Phys-2018). When you read the assumptions and explanations then you just feel that these hypotheses are farfetched. Perhaps, simple explanations may not appear or feel scientific. Complicated assumptions and explanations may appear to reveal thorough scientific thinking.

Any conclusion or explanation is based on available information. The quality of information - or data - is always based on the 6 common criteria for data quality: (1) completeness, (2) uniqueness, (3) timeliness, (4) relevance/validity, (5) accuracy/correctness, and (6) consistency.

Information is seldom complete, correct, relevant, unique, consistent, or available on a timely basis. We fill the voids by making assumptions. Our mind creates scenarios, and each with their own assumptions.

Our mind ranks those scenarios - from simple to complicated - for plausibility. The most plausible one is our conclusion, expectation, or explanation. Whenever new information is available, our mind updates the scenarios, including the most plausible one (ie, "progressive insight”).

Nowadays, I more or less force myself to believe that the simplest scenario is the most plausible one. This approach is in conformity with Occam’s razor. The top two paragraphs show that I used to be (very) different in my beliefs. I have learned the hard way.

Occam's razor (2008) by Frank Zappa - artist, no lyrics, video, Wiki-1, Wiki-2


Note: all markings (bold, italic, underlining) by LO unless stated otherwise