Occam’s Razor

Occam’s Razor states,

When confronted with multiple solutions to a problem, chose the simplest one.

or,

Plurality ought never be posited without necessity.

True enough, as far as it goes…

The warnings are in there, they’re just often ignored.

When confronted with multiple solutions

solutions,

…to a problem,

a problem,

choose the simplest

simplest,

one.

one.

He is talking about solving problems. If something is not a problem, he’s not claiming anything about it.  Just because someone chooses to see everything as a problem needing solutions is not Occam’s problem, it’s theirs.

The simplest solution; that does not mean the least complex, just the least complicated.

There’s a difference.

Chose one.  A singularity can enclose multitudes, one does not mean a reduced, impoverished single statement or viewpoint.

Occam is telling us that when we are sure we are dealing with a problem – when something presents a conflict and it has the possibility of a solution – leaving out the entire class of conflicts that are best termed predicaments: conditions that just are and have no viable solution; conditions that must be adapted to, accommodated, and accepted at some level – if we are dealing with a problem then we should expect the best result to be the most clear.  The simplest solution that meets all of the conditions.  This will be a single one, but within that one, as in any singularity there can be, and most probably are, multitudes.  It’s not by reducing, stripping away complexity that we reach clarity, but by the avoidance of confusion and complication.

For Occam, writing in Latin, not his native language, but a chosen language of discourse, chosen at least in part because it required a certain commitment to precision in writing and reading.  The second version,

“Plurality ought never be posited without necessity.”

is closer to a transliteration of his Latin.  It is more clear, precisely because it expects and demands rigor.  Each word contains its meaning with a combination of brevity and fullness.  The words are placed in order, here translated into the basic order of English, in an order that creates an equation emblematic of its meaning.  Its undercurrent is “Don’t use two words when one will do.”  and “Know what a word means before you use it.”  “Know all that it means and see how a few words well chosen form a structure that contains the meaning within the whole.”

Occam expected his readers to not take shortcuts.  Expected them not to be looking for the easy way out.  He expected and demanded rigor.  There are no assumptions in his original statement.  The common, current version, is riddled with assumptions that most of its readers – more likely not reading it at all, just vaguely remembering something about “simple answers are best…”– do not bring any rigor or sense of clarity to the table.  The problem is not Occam’s, it’s ours.

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