Ethical Skepticism – Part 5 – The Real Ockham’s Razor
The abuse or mis-employment of Ockham’s Razor as an appeal to authority is a key indicator as to a person’s lack of scientific literacy.
“You ever hear the expression ‘Simplest answer’s often the correct one’?”
“Actually, I’ve never found that to be true.”
– Gone Girl, 2014¹
Indeed, the actual role of Ockham’s Razor, the real scientific principle, is to begin the scientific method, not complete it in one felled swoop. Rational thinking under Ockham’s Razor (ie. science) is the demonstrated ability to handle plurality with integrity.
THE SIMULTANEOUS APPEAL to AUTHORITY and IGNORANCE: “OCCAM’S RAZOR”:
“All things being equal, the simplest explanation tends to be the correct one.”
The first statement above is most commonly employed as appeal to authority and is not Ockham’s Razor. This one-liner, popularized by Carl Sagan and in the movie Contact, is a sleight of hand expression taught by Social Skeptics and often called ‘Occam’s Razor.’ It is employed to force a premature disposition on an idea, dismiss observations and data as if they were ‘claims’ and further squelch disdained topics which would otherwise be entertained for research by Ethical Skepticism. The weakness of the statement resides in the philosophical principle that the simplest answer is typically the one which falls in line with the pre-cooked assumptions, the stack of high risk provisional knowledge we are bringing to the argument. Moreover, implicit within this statement reside the claims that all relevant knowledge is currently mastered by the one issuing disposition and that data/observations must immediately be ‘explained’ so that a disposition (read that as dismissal) can be issued a priori and anecdotally. These actions serve to obviate both the data aggregation and intelligence development steps of science; a fallacious sleight-of-hand employed to obfuscate and abrogate the application of the scientific method. This trick, the false claim to ‘You see it’s simple…,’ is a common huckster tactic, bearing little in common with true rationality and failing the Popper science demarcation principle. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy expounds on the weakness of such thinking in terms of Popperian Philosophy:
“In the view of many social scientists, the more probable a theory is, the better it is, and if we have to choose between two theories which are equally strong in terms of their explanatory power, and differ only in that one is probable and the other is improbable, then we should choose the former. Popper rejects this.”²
Don’t let your integrity slip to the point where you catch yourself using these practices to deceive others, or employing ‘Occam’s Razor’ as a habitually reflexive martial arts response, deflecting information from entering your rational playing field. The two formal and one informal fallacies introduced via this errant philosophy are:
Transactional Occam’s Razor Fallacy (Appeal to Ignorance)
The false contention that a challenging construct, observation or paradigm must immediately be ‘explained.’ Sidestepping of the data aggregation, question development, intelligence and testing/replication steps of the scientific method and forcing a skip right to its artificially conclusive end (final peer review by ‘Occam’s Razor’).
Existential Occam’s Razor Fallacy (Appeal to Authority)
The false contention that the simplest or most probable explanation tends to be the scientifically correct one. Suffers from the weakness that myriad and complex underpinning assumptions, based upon scant predictive/suggestive study, provisional knowledge or Popper insufficient science, result in the condition of tendering the appearance of ‘simplicity.’
Observational Occam’s Razor Fallacy (Exclusion Bias)
Through insisting that observations and data be explained immediately, and through rejecting such a datum based upon the idea that it introduces plurality (it is not simple), one effectively ensures that no data will ever be recognized which serves to frame and reduce a competing alternative. One will in effect perpetually prove only what they have assumed as true, regardless of the idea’s inherent risk. No competing idea can ever be formulated because outlier data is continuously discarded immediately, one datum at a time by means of ‘simplicity’.
When simplicity or parsimony are incorrectly applied as excuse to resist the development of a new scientific explanatory model, data or challenging observation set, when indeed the participant refuses to consider or examine the explanatory utility of any similar new model under consideration.
Another way of describing this principle is bound up in the popular equivocal version of Ockham’s Razor:
‘Entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily.’
However, be careful with this large equivocal footprint version of Ockham’s Razor. Socially this statement leaves open (and has been often abused in this way) the notion that categories should not be added to social groups, or ideas should not be brought to the table for consideration, observation, intelligence or sponsorship in social or scientific discourse – for no other reason than disdain. All under the unskilled apothegm based science that ‘I don’t want to consider this’ coded inside the abuse of a twisted form of philosophy. This is the exclusive-conclusive abuse of ‘Occam’s Razor’ which is popular among those bearing an oppressive social mindset and seeking to appear to have science back their politics, religion and personal hatreds. So while the second variant above is indeed better than its ‘simplest explanation’ cousin, its amphibology potential still affords malicious mindsets an open door to apply it in error. It still can be used to stand tantamount to, and in substitution of, a material argument. This is philosophy being used to supplant science. This is pseudoscience.
Indeed, the actual role of Ockham’s Razor, the real scientific principle, is to begin the scientific method, not complete it in one felled swoop of denial.
THE REAL OCKHAM’S/OCCHAM’S RAZOR:
“Pluralitas non est ponenda sine neccesitate” or “Plurality should not be posited without necessity”
Summa Totius Logicae, William of Ockham (frater Occham)
The words are those of the medieval English philosopher and Franciscan monk William of Ockham (ca. 1287-1347).³ I use Ockham’s Razor because that is what most philosophers use, and it is the choice of the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (SEP: Ockham’s Razor).³ It is not that the use of ‘Occam’ is not acceptable; however, if you do not make it clear which version you are referring to, your recitation as such could stand as a warning flag highlighting a lack of scientific literacy, especially regarding issues of parsimony and explanatory research.
Please note that the pre-anglicized name of the village from which Ockham heralded was named Bocheham,³ and was called Ockham even before William’s life. It was never at any time called ‘Occam’ nor ‘Occamus.’ Although its use is accepted, fewer serious scientific publications use the term ‘Occam’s Razor;’ and when they do, they mean the latter parsimony context presented here, and not the former ‘simplest explanation’ meaning above. Further, when he referred to himself in the Latin, he used the term “frater Occham,” and not ‘Occamus’ as some people claim in order to defend the widespread use in error (See William of Ockham’s sketch “frater Occham iste”, from a manuscript of Ockham’s Summa Logicae, 1341). This was not a case of pen-name selection, rather an attempt at a Latin transcription on the part of William. Therefore, this is not a case of petition for an official name as might be warranted in the instance of an author’s choosing a pen-name. Latin lexicons bore no precedent for an ‘ock’ based expression root, so the pseudo Latin version of Ockham chosen by William was Occham, and not ‘Occam’ nor ‘Occamus.’ Accordingly, William of Ockham employed ‘Occham’ in his translated work (which was the de rigueur of the day) and successive disciples of his employed the name Occhami in their Latin publications† – which further was cited in error of transcription as the much later French Renaissance variant “de Occam.”† So, as we step back into the proper context of original usage (case example: Neanderthal as proper over the later French change to Neandertal), as well as modern English employment, Ockham is the correct modern transcription of the pseudo-Latin Occham and Occhami (these names did not actually exist in Latin – it would be like me signing my blogs Etticchus Parsimonae as a requirement to get them published – neither name or term actually exists in Latin – rather it would be a technically imprecise expression of pretense on my part). If however, one must insist on the pen-name approach, then one should honor the author’s clear expressed choice, and Occham’s Razor would be the only appropriate variant to employ.
Of key relevance however, this apothegm is a qualifying heuristic (neither exclusive nor inclusive nor conclusive), which simply cites that until we have enough evidence to compel us, science should not invest its resources into immaturely novel, discontinuous, unnecessarily feature laden or agenda driven theories. Not because they are false or terminally irrelevant, rather existentially they are unnecessary in the current incremental discourse of science. They are not yet relevant. Observation, intelligence and sponsorship are the steps in the scientific method which can serve to introduce necessity into the equation of science.
A suspension of relevancy is in no way tantamount to a material argument, nor may it boast an existential call to arms, for the assembling clubs of rationality and critical thought. Cabals which simply serve to entertain and encourage malevolent minds and instruct the credulous inside habits of denial. This is the pseudoscience of the fake skeptic. It is unfaithfulness to science, elucidating the stark scientific illiteracy afoul in the heart of those who practice such dishonesty.
However, it is the latter half of this definition which is routinely ignored by those in the social skepticism movement. Ockham’s Razor most importantly also establishes that, once there exists a sufficient threshold of evidence to warrant attention, then science should seek to address the veracity of a an outside claim, or multiple explanatory approaches, or more complex versions of standing theory. This condition is called plurality. Plurality is a condition of science which is established by observations, intelligence and sponsorship, not by questions, peer review or claims. To block the aggregation and intelligence of this observational data, or attempt to filter it so that all data are essentially relegated as fiat anecdote, is pseudoscience. It is fraud, and is the chief practice of those in the Social Skepticism movement today. The claim of “Prove it” – or Proof Gaming Formal Fallacy, embodies this fundamental misunderstanding of Ockham’s Razor on the part of those who have not pursued a rigorous philosophical core inside their education.
The abuse or mis-employment of Ockham’s Razor is a key indicator as to a person’s lack of scientific literacy.
This statement, and in particular Ockham’s Razor’s employment of the term ‘plurality,’ is more commonly recognized in research science as the principle of parsimony:
Parsimony – the resistance to expand explanatory plurality or descriptive complexity beyond what is absolutely necessary, combined with the wisdom to know when to do so.
And of course we would be remiss without defining the axiomatic principle inside parsimony, which is the defining essence of Ockham’s Razor:
Plurality (plural of entities)
/philosophy : scientific method : construct and theory discipline/ : adding entities or complexity to an argument. Introducing for active consideration, more than one idea, construct or theory attempting to explain a set of data, information or intelligence. Also, the stacking of features or special pleading to an existing explanation, in order to adapt it to emerging data, information or intelligence – or in an attempt to preserve the explanation from being eliminated through falsification.
A related form of parsimony is a principle called Corber’s Burden. It states that the burden of proof falls, even to one who is claiming falseness. Falseness being a claim just the same as a primary affirmative contention. This applies as well to the condition where a ‘skeptic’ implies falseness by a variety of means. Not only this, but in a broader sense, when one makes multiple claims, or contends that they have identified the core domain of falseness (pseudoscience), then that claimant bears the ultimate burden of proof. This is a form of surreptitious plurality error embodied inside Corber’s Burden.
When one tenders an authoritative claim as to what is incorrect – one must be perfectly correct.
/philosophy : argument : burden of proof/ The mantle of ethics undertaken when one claims the role of representing conclusive scientific truth, ascertained by means other than science, such as ‘rational thinking,’ ‘critical thinking,’ ‘common sense,’ or skeptical doubt. An authoritative claim or implication as to possessing knowledge of a plural set of that which is incorrect. The nature of such a claim to authority on one’s part demands that the skeptic who assumes such a role be 100% correct.
Many subjects reside inside this arena of doubt, wherein a claim to falseness is under the same burden of scrutiny as is the claim to verity. This threshold of plurality and in contrast, the ‘proof’ of an idea, are not the same standard of data, testing and evidence. Muddying the two contexts is a common practice of deception on the part of SSkeptics. Proof is established by science, plurality is established by sponsors. SSkeptics regard Ockham’s Razor as a threat to their religion, and instead quote the former substitute above, which while sounding similar and ‘sciencey’, does not mean the same thing at all. An imposter principle which rather seeks to blur the lines around and prevent competing ideas from attaining this threshold of plurality and attention under the scientific method. Their agenda is to prohibit ideas from attaining this threshold at ANY cost. This effort to prohibit an idea its day in the court of science, constitutes in itself, pseudoscience.
This method of pseudoscience is called the DRiP Method.
Misuse of “Occam’s” Razor to effect Knowledge Filtering
One of the principal techniques, if not the primary technique of the practitioners of thought control and Deskeption, is the unethical use of Knowledge Filtering. The core technique involves the mis-use of Ockham’s Razor as an application to DATA and not to competitive thought constructs. This is a practice of pseudoscience and is in its essence dishonesty.
Ockham’s Razor, or the discernment of plurality versus singularity in terms of competing ideas, is a useful tool in determining whether science should be distracted by bunk theories which would potentially waste everyone’s time and resources. Data on the other hand is NOT subject to this threshold.
By insisting that observations be explained immediately, and through rejecting a datum, based on the idea that it introduces plurality, one effectively ensures that no data will ever be found which produces a competing construct. You will in effect, perpetually prove only what you are looking for, or what you have assumed to be correct. No competing idea can ever be formulated because outlier data is continuously discarded immediately, one datum at a time. This process of singularly dismissing each datum in a series of observations, which would otherwise constitute data collection in an ethical context is called “Knowledge Filtering” and stands as a key step in the Cultivation of Ignorance, a practice on the part of Social Skepticism. It is a process of screening data before it can reach the body of non-expert scientists. It is a method of squelching science in its unacknowledged steps of process and before it can gain a footing inside the body of scientific discourse. It is employed in the example graphic to the right, in the center, just before the step of employing the ‘dismissible margin’ in Social Skepticism’s mismanagement of scientific consensus.
Plurality is a principle which is applied to constructs and hypotheses, not data.
I found a curious native petroglyph once while on an archaeological rafting excursion, which was completely out of place, but who’s ocre had been dated to antiquity. I took a photo of it to the state university library and was unable to find the petroglyph in the well documented inventory of Native American Glyphs. I found all the glyphs to the right and all the glyphs to the left of the curious one. However, the glyph in question had been the only one excluded from the state documentation work performed by a local university professor. A senior fellow at the foundation supporting the library, when I inquired replied appropriately “You know, maybe the Glyph just didn’t fit the understanding.” He had hit the nail on the head. By Occam’s Razor, the professor had been given tacit permission to filter the information out from the public database, effectively erasing its presence from history. He did not have to erase the glyph itself, rather simply erase the glyph from the public record, our minds and science – and excuse it all as an act of ‘rational thinking.’ And were I to attempt to insert this glyph into the scientific record myself, I knew that my career would come under attack. So I left the issue at that point.
The Purpose of Ockham’s Razor is to BEGIN the scientific method, not screen data out and finish it.
Data stands on its own. Additionally, when found in abundance or even sometimes when found in scarcity, and not eliminated one at a time by the false anecdotal application of “Occam’s” Razor, can eventually be formulated into a construct which then will vie for plurality under the real Ockham’s Razor. A useful principle of construct refinement, prior to testing, under the scientific method.
As you might see below, plurality resides at the heart of scientific research. But the unsung heroes of plurality are the sponsors of original, creative, persistent and perceptive research who drive the process of plurality (Scientific Method Steps 1 – 5, below). They, even more so than authors and studies undergoing the process of Peer Review, bear the brunt of disdain from faking scientists and SSkeptics who seek to prevent the process of plurality from occurring at all costs.
Map of Deskeption 7.8.1: Misuse of “Simplicity”
Think through this comparative and your ethics will begin to change. Simplicity can be a deceptive tactic, when used to obfuscate:
1) Simple explanations have complex underpinnings. Our “simple” explanations are only simple, because we choose to contort reality in extremely exhaustive complexities in order to force simplicity. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. But if he does drink, that is not a simple action by any means, it may appear to be simple but that is an illusion on the part of the casual observer. Simplicity, many times, is only an illusion.
2) Beware of the tyranny of the simple. Simplicity as a principle of discretion is best suited for the clear application of judgments and governances, and as such is usually based on sets of laws and procedure which change only slowly and under great necessity. Laws only change as men change, and men are slow to change. Because of this, laws of governance are always behind current understandings. Unassailable principles of governance have little place in discovery and science.
3) Simplicity conveys neither straightforwardness, nor elegance; which are central tenets of understanding. “The simplest vehicle I know of is a unicycle. I’ll be damned if after all these years of trying, I still have not managed to learn how to ride one.”
4) Simplicity implies that enough data exists to warrant a conclusion regarding an observation, then further implies that a disposition must be tendered immediately. Simplicity in this fashion is sold through construction of a false dilemma, a fatal logical fallacy.
5) Simplicity which does not give way to the utility of an incrementally more complex, yet better explanatory paradigm, is not simplicity, rather utility blindness or Kuhn Denialism. Science is a progression of incrementally better utility in the explanatory basis of successive models. As this process progresses, models tend to gain more accuracy or applicability at the cost of added complexity. A focus on simplicity rather than utility can bias a person against the incremental nature of scientific explanatory progression.
When rational thinking becomes nothing more than an exercise in simply dismissing observations to suit one’s inherited ontology, then the entire integral will and mind of the individual participating in such activity, has been broken.
¹ Gone Girl, screenplay by Gillian Flynn, motion picture by 20th Century Fox; September 26, 2014; David Fincher.
² Thornton, Stephen, “Karl Popper”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2014 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2014/entries/popper/>
³ Spade, Paul Vincent and Panaccio, Claude, “William of Ockham”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2011 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/ockham/>
† Gulielmi Occhami, … Summa totius logicae; https://archive.org/details/bub_gb_ciXVn5xQ-5kC