Occam's Razor 🪒
I watched a documentary about QAnon a while back, and it got me thinking about conspiracy theories. Sometimes they are incredibly complicated! And that got me thinking about Occam’s Razor.
What is Occam’s Razor?
Who was Occam? William of Occam was a 14th century philosopher.
And what's a razor? In this sense, a razor is a short philosophical statement which is a useful rule of thumb. It’s a shortcut that we can use to make our quick judgements more accurate.
Occam's Razor states:
Of two competing theories, the simpler explanation is to be preferred.
In other words:
The simplest explanation for an event is almost always the best; shave away any extraneous assumptions, and what you’ve got left is usually the truth.
Why is this interesting?
When you're assessing the validity of something, you can use Occam's Razor. In fact you already do it at times.
I like this really simple example from Dan.
Consider when you come into your home and the hallway light doesn’t work, you think the bulb has gone. If the light in the next room also doesn’t work, you think the circuit breaker has tripped. That’s because you know two bulbs failing at the same time is far less plausible than a dead circuit.
But beware, Occam's razor is not a substitute for analysis. As FS blog explained well:
Occam’s razor is not intended to be a substitute for critical thinking. ...
Most people oversimplify Occam’s razor to mean the simplest answer is usually correct. But the real meaning, what ... Occam really wanted to emphasize, is that you shouldn’t complicate, that you shouldn’t “stack” a theory if a simpler explanation was at the ready.
Pare it down. Prune the excess.
Want to go deeper?
💎 Occam's Razor is also known as the law of parsimony
🔖 Why are conspiracy theories so appealing?
🤔 Sometimes we come up with complicated explanations for mere coincidences. I love the birthday paradox:
The birthday paradox is that, counterintuitively, the probability of a shared birthday exceeds 50% in a group of only 23 people.