The Ethical Skeptic

Challenging Agency of Pseudo-Skepticism & Cultivated Ignorance

When Simple is Just Simply Wrong

If one can easily translate the complex into the ‘simple’ – one risks reducing out the essential argument which was posed in the first place. Sometimes, simple is simply not enough, or worse is a way of faking comprehension when one does not really grasp mechanism nor seek understanding. Sometimes what is celebrated as simple, is in reality advantageously obtuse.

We have all heard the famous Richard Feynman quote “If you can’t explain something in simple terms, you don’t understand it.” While the principle rings with lofty enlightenment, and accordingly tugs at my heart to grant it free pass based upon its poetic conviction alone, nonetheless my mind raises an experience-based objection.  Not all things are simple of course. But more to the point, many philosophical principles reside in a state of critical irreducibility, and cannot be simplified beyond a given level of complexity, without compromising the essence of the critical path logic contained in its integral form. Many principles of philosophy for instance, require the participant to up their game, and suffer (sometimes fatally) when the principle is translated into a weaker and supposedly more understandable form. It is not that the much venerated Dr. Feynman is wrong in his statement, rather that his statement can be shown to be wrong in common circumstances, without special pleading. It is a type of organic untruth called dicto simpliciter (see below). Feynman’s simplicity apothegm also is a complex fallacy called the Wonka Golden Ticket or einfach mechanism. Later in this article you will see a list of popular Wonka Golden Ticket fallacies, in areas such as civil rights or philosophy, wherein the popular simple principle stands as a twisted and malevolent form of its original theme. It is pseudo-theory. It is an idea which is so strong in its simplicity, verisimilitude and perception, that it is installed as truth from the moment it is uttered; never vetted in its genesis, and is never allowed to be questioned again. Humans are ruled by this type of common fiat wisdom. This statement itself, ironically stands exemplary as to why ‘simple’ is not always the correct or clearest explanation. Sometimes, an effort to force simplicity constitutes nothing more than simpleton science itself.

Einfach Mechanism

An invalid null hypothesis or best explanation. An explanation, theory or idea which resolves a contention through bypassing the scientific method, then moreover is installed as truth solely by means of the apparent strength of the idea itself. Pseudo-theory which is not tested at its inception, nor is ever held to account thereafter.

This principle of skipping or short-cutting a portion of the critical logic of an irreducible concept, in the name of, or in the mistake of, simplicity we shall highlight below.

Simple or Simpleton?

If simplicity is to be defined by functional implication as ‘that which is understandable’, then one must be aware of the pitfalls entwined inside the art of conversion of the complex into its simpler form. This process is not an idempotent process. The principle can be elicited by the philosophical tenet known as translation, as formulated by materials physicist, Percy Bridgman.1

The materials physicist Percy Bridgman, commented upon the process by which we ‘translate’ abstract theories and concepts into specific experimental contexts and protocols. Calling this work of reduction and translation ‘operationalism’ – Bridgman cautioned that experimental data production is often guided by substantial presuppositions about the subject matter which arise as a part of this translation. Often raising concern about the ways in which initial questions are formulated inside a scientific context. True science is a process which revisits its methodological constructs (modes of research method) as often as it does its epistemological (knowledge) ones. Accordingly, this principle identified by Bridgman is the foundation of the philosophy which clarifies the difference between a complex understanding and its necessary components. If presuppositions are made in this very scientific process itself, are not even more risky suppositions then made in the process of translating complexity into simplicity?

When we alter a principle for clarity’s sake, just as in the case of reducing complex scientific paradigms into simpler component tests, we translate and reduce sometimes the content of that principle. We inexorably change that principle. Especially if the principle itself was delineating a subtle aspect of philosophy to begin with. The ability to make a tenet of philosophy simpler, may stand more as an indication that the translation specialist did not get the subtle nature of its critical logic to begin with. When this is done as a matter of convenience in order to make the pseudo-principle go viral, or push selected answers, this is called being advantageously obtuse.

Advantageously Obtuse (Bridgman Reduction)

/philosophy : pseudo-philosophy/ : a principle which has been translated, reduced or dumbed-down for consumption so as to appear to be a ‘simple’ version of its source principle; however, which has been compromised through such a process. Thereby making it easy to communicate among the vulnerable who fail to grasp its critical elements, and moreover to serve as an apothegm useful in enforcing specific desired conclusions. Statements such as ‘the burden of proof lies on the claimant’ or ‘the simplest explanation tends to be correct’ – stand as twisted, viral forms of their parent principles, which contend ironically, critically or completely different standards of thought.

This principle is very similar in logical constraint to Stephen Wolfram’s principle of computational irreducibility:

Computational Irreducibility

/philosophy : pseudo-philosophy : boundary/ : the idea that some systems can only be sufficiently described by fully simulating them. The only way to determine the answer to a computationally irreducible question is to perform the computation/simulation which solves for its answer. In this context, it is impossible to ascertain the future state of a CI system, without having to sufficiently model and determine all the intermediate states in between. Such process cannot be reduced or sped up through any kind of reduction (Bridgman Reduction), assumption or shortcut. To do so alters the actual model and its answer into a state of unknown, and unrealized, error.2

Simple itself, also may be less scientific. Comparatively, all things being equal, a more plural construct is more scientific precisely because it is more potentially informative than is a conforming or simple (monist) construct. It places more conjecture on the line – and takes incremental risk which a simple explanation does not.  An incrementally complex (context of plurality) construct should be studied first, under a condition of plurality, because ostensibly it is the easiest to eliminate through falsification/deduction – and therefore is more informative as compared to a ‘simple’ explanation (which is inductive/abductive inference at best).3  Fake skeptics never get this – they cling onto their one-liner’s and what is familiar (simple) – and then die, and a new generation precipitates what is known as a Kuhn-Planck paradigm shift. (see, the highly informative role of conflicting and non-corroborating evidence)

In pluralistic research, a team does not ‘test the simplest constructs first’. This is the false notion of someone who has never once assembled a reduction critical path, nor prosecuted a scientific line of inquiry. A team will test those constructs which can be potentially falsified in short order first on the critical path – which often also are complex (not complicated) in their offing. This, for three reasons: 1) falsification is a more highly informative pathway of research, 2) The added information strengthens the ability to resolve other constructs in the critical path succession, and 3) this wastes the least amount of dwell time inside a series of critical path Query Oriented Normalization question series (especially when one is under stakeholder or stockholder pressure). If your ‘skeptic’ does not know what any of these things are – tell them to shut up and sit down before they hurt themselves.

Also, please note that complex, plural and complicated (the antithesis of simple), are not the same thing. Don’t let your fake skeptic pull tricks by conflating the three or using special pleadings as to what is indeed complexity inside this context. Just because a construct adds a feature at risk under science, does not serve to make it ‘less simple’. They are not lovers of simplicity, rather they fear the inability of their mind to grasp sufficient and necessary complexity.

Let’s use a case example of ‘Occam’s Razor’ (sic). I chuckled when I first grasped the circular logic entailed in the pseudoscience version of Ockham’s Razor, ‘Occam’s Razor’, shown in the graphic to the right. Occam’s Razor, the favorite apothegm of the social skeptic, is advantageously obtuse. Not only shallow, but handy in promoting specific conclusions without merit. The principle, made famous in the movie Contact, written by Carl Sagan, offers promotion of the ‘simplest explanation’ as a pathway bearing reliable truth. Ironically Occam’s Razor itself is a flawed ‘simple’ form of Ockham’s Razor, simply because Sagan wanted a simpler version of what he failed to grasp to begin with.4 ‘Plurality should not be posited without necessity’ is not congruent in any way shape or form with ‘All things being equal, the simplest explanation tends to be the correct one’. In the latter definition, the participant is not looking for a simple way to understand Ockham’s Razor, rather they are looking for a simpler way to (not have to) do science – one which does not demand all the investigation, research, databasing, question asking, recursive work – and rather serves to make science itself fatally simple (or less effort). An armchair activity if you will. Many scientists reject Occam’s Razor for this very reason – it is shortcut, lazy and premature science.5

…well if there is sufficient evidence for both, then I believe both happily. And then wait for more… I mean if the experimental data doesn’t favour one of them, why should I believe the simpler one? […] I probably would because it’s easier to understand, easier for my brain to work on, but if they both show sufficient data, then either of them might be right or neither of them might be right, so I’m happy to believe both until one is disproven.

~ “Simple or Simplistic? Scientists’ Views on Occam’s Razor”, Hauke Riesch

Occam’s Razor is an example of simple gone wrong (see more here: Ethical Skepticism – Part 5 – The Real Ockham’s Razor). The principal flaws buried inside of this lazy, or worse obfuscative, approach to science resides inside two critical path fallacies relating to soundness:

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’).

dicto simpliciter

When one presumes that what is true in general and/or under normal circumstances, is therefore true under all circumstances without exception.

Occam’s Razor is not simple, rather it is obtuse. Sometimes simple, is simply wrong. Other examples of apothegms, which are incorrectly derived from their parent philosophical principles through a Bridgman Reduction include:

Actual scientific principle: onus probandi – It is a general rule, that the party who alleges the affirmative of any proposition shall prove it. This includes the Null Hypothesis or any form of stand-in which is to serve in its place. In general, wherever science presumes the affirmative, it lies on the party who denies the fact, to prove the negative.6

Incorrect simple version: ‘The person claiming something is possible or has happened needs to produce evidence to refute the null hypothesis.’ ~ Rational Wiki7

Incorrect simple version: ‘The burden of proof resides on the claimant.’ ~ Common doctrine8

Actual philosophical principle: ‘A wise man proportions his belief to the evidence.’ ~ David Hume

Incorrect simple version: ‘A skeptic provisionally proportions acceptance of any claim to valid logic and a fair and thorough assessment of available evidence’ ~ Steven Novella9

Actual philosophical principle: ‘For every fact F, there must be a sufficient reason why F is the case. For every x, there is a y such that y is the sufficient reason for x’ ~Gottfried Leibniz10

Incorrect simple version: ‘Everything happens for a reason.’11

Actual philosophical principle: ‘The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.’ ~ John Stuart Mill12

Incorrect simple version: ‘Non-aggression principle, aggression is inherently wrong. Do no harm.’ ~ Common doctrine13

Actual ethical principle: ‘It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employment agency to fail or refuse to refer for employment, or otherwise to discriminate against, any individual because of his race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, or to classify or refer for employment any individual on the basis of his race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.’ ~ Title VI of the Civil Rights Act14

Incorrect simple and academic-popular version: ‘I dare you to get on Wikipedia and play “Things white people can definitely take credit for,” it’s really hard.’ ~ Sarah Jeong, senior writer for The Verge and member of the editorial board of The New York Times; Tweet, 25 Nov 2015; Twitter Archives

Conflating Obtuseness with Simplicity of Expression and Reductionism

Now of course, reduced simple constructs bear enormous usefulness inside science, and in particular systems modeling. Physics itself is a form of systems modeling, involving the principle of reductionism. Reductionism has served the sciences well. In physics, where there are well defined laws, it is often possible to use a micro-scaled descriptive principle to derive a macroscopic model. Nuclear reactions were first modeled in this micro-to-macro fashion, before a physical one was ever achieved by mankind.15 Take for instance, the simple mathematical relationship which describes the mass to energy conversion occurring inside a fission or fusion nuclear reaction.

Simple, right? But if you really want to understand nuclear dynamics, as I did as a young undergraduate, the actual formula which models the dynamic reaction in a nuclear core runs down the chalkboard of an entire side and one half of a typical medium-sized college classroom. A sad realization I encountered one day when Professor Farazin spent the first 15 minutes of class writing that equation up on the chalkboard. A very complex equation in reality, featuring simpler components and substrates. The neutron transport dynamics and kinetics, the core shape, neutron sinks, reflection dynamics and material makeup – all play into one complex interleaving producing a given fast neutron density. This gives us the brisance, thermal release and control profile of the nuclear chain reaction.

Let’s make it clear here, that one’s ability to cite the simple principle E=mc² does not in any way qualify one to understand nor teach nuclear core dynamics. Sometimes, simple is simply not enough, or might even constitute a way of faking it, when one does not really understand what is going on.

Let’s take another example. Many of the celebrity science communicators who are pushed in front of us daily by the media, spout simple and clever sounding apothegms, yet fail to even understand the science behind these apothegms. The very same failure as on the part of those agenda spinners who created them in the first place. Neil DeGrasse Tyson is a favorite whipping post for stupid statements in the name of science. When one takes physiology obtusely, and fails to understand the complex relationship between pesticides, livestock hormones and antibiotics, the human microbiome, endocrine system, metabolism, vitamin absorption, ketosis and mitochondrial damage/suppression, one can regard themselves as clever in whipping out simpleton science gems such as this:

“A Weight Loss book written by Physicists would be 1 sentence long: ‘Consume calories at a lower rate than your body burns them.'” ~ Neil DeGrasse Tyson

Had Neil DeGrasse Tyson actually invested any scientific experience/effort (the dreaded ‘complexity’) into this subject, he would know that calories-in calories-out dieting does not work, and inevitably leads to lower and lower consumption over time; finally resulting in the related chronic diseases from malnutrition which accompany this bad practice. It is simple, but it is also stupid. And you will find those who cannot distinguish between the two, to often be fascinated by the apparent brilliance of simpleness. But you see, actually investigating these constructs was not ‘simple’ enough for Neil. Neil, as all celebrity skeptics and science communicators are wont, was rent-seeking (see below).

Additionally, systems modelers recognize the critical nature of reductionism in understanding the elemental dynamics of a more complex model:

At what point does the model cease to have explanatory value having become too complex to do anything more than simulate it at a variety of parameter values and initial conditions? Often, the models that are proposed have dozens of parameters many of which may not be known for the particular system studied. Furthermore, the complexity of the models makes it difficult to study sensitivity to parameters and initial conditions even on fast computers. This difficulty is magnified when the systems that are simulated are inherently stochastic, for then, one can ask how many sample paths is enough? In addition to the computational difficulties and the incomplete knowledge of parameters, there is also the issue of the interpretation of the output of the model. Large simulations produce a tremendous amount of output and much of it is likely to be useless for the particulars of a given experiment. Finally, for many biological systems, one can only guess at the mechanism. A simulation does not tell you how dependent the behavior is on the particular instance of the mechanism that you have chosen.16

~ Bard Ermentrout, Department of Mathematics – University of Pittsburgh

But we must understand that, reduction is simply a method by which we digest necessary complexity – and is not tantamount to dismissing complexity nor making a model simple itself. Conflating these two principles can serve to be the genesis of much philosophical (and sadly, scientific) confusion.

Simplicity-Seeking is Intellectual Rent-Seeking

Simplicity-seeking, much akin to Nassim Taleb’s (as opposed to Gordon Tullock’s earlier version) principle entitled rent-seeking, is a way of profiting by means of the least-effort method ascertainable. Rent-seeking involves seeking to increase one’s share of existing wealth without creating or contributing value as a part of that process. Easy money, Easy science. Just as in economics, where the activities of cartels, bureaucracies and monopolies – seek to gain economically through no provision of value – even so, simplicity seeking is a form of intellectual and scientific laziness. Bard Ermentrout elicits this by means of a great point inside the quote above, with his statement “…for many biological systems, one can only guess at the mechanism.”.

It is precisely our inability or lack of desire to handle and grasp complex body systems, along with the desire to make them simpler than they really are, that is the genesis of much misdiagnosis and mistreatment inside modern medicine. It is our wish to make things simple, which causes interventions based upon these fallacious understandings to indeed go wrong.

Let’s examine an example of this in modern medicine; and in particular one of the primary hormone signal and control centers in the body, the thyroid gland.

“Thyroid replacement hormones are a first line of defense for many doctors, prescribed with the promise of wiping out a number of symptoms in one fell swoop. But taking that approach is turning a blind eye to what caused the thyroid to become depressed in the first place. The underlying causes can range from irregular immune function and poor blood sugar metabolism to gut infections, adrenal problems, and hormonal imbalances. Hypothyroidism is a horribly mistreated and misunderstood disease. Not only does it remain undiagnosed in scores of people (including children), but once diagnosed, the old-school treatment of a single daily synthetic hormone replacement pill is not always effective.”17

~ Endocrinologist, Datis Kharrazian, from

The thyroid gland is an advanced, complex and highly interleaved system control head. Its function inside the pituitary-thyroid-adrenal axis is poorly understood. And while the thyroid releases at least 4 hormones (body control signals), T1, T2, T3 and T4 – we as a medical body have made the damaging mistake of assuming that the gland’s role inside the body is simpler than it really is. We patent and prescribe T4 – Levothyroxine, repeatedly make easy billions of dollars, and call the science finished.  Meanwhile millions of people are harmed by this form of rent-seeking: simplicity seeking.

Problems with Enforcing Simplicity as an Over-Rule

As much as I would love to express some of the findings inside my philosophy in much simpler terms, as a technical and specification writer I find that I cannot in many cases, without compromising the material I wish to relate. Understanding as it turns out, is the ability to know when not to make something simpler, as opposed to the skill in doing so. Complexity many times, is asking the neophyte to up their game, not lower the standard of the material being presented. The principles I express in this blog are, many times discriminated inside levels of complexity to begin with. Spotting the magician’s trick requires that one understand the subtle methodology being employed by the magician. ‘Simple’ in this context, of the art of the professional lie, is often simply a sales job.

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.

6) Simple is a form of rent seeking. It is employed by a player who either does not understand the complex underlying principle or even worse desires to obfuscate that underlying principle to begin with. This usually involves a situation where the ‘simplicity-seeker’ is establishing a form of information control. An ability to derive and enforce a scientific paradigm without having to input the work, value or clarity normally incumbent with such a feat.

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.

Sometimes what is celebrated as simple, is in reality merely obtuse.

epoché vanguards gnosis


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Ethical Skepticism – Part 5 – The Real Ockham’s Razor

The abuse or misemployment of Ockham’s Razor as an appeal to authority/ignorance is a key indicator as to a person’s lack of scientific literacy. 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.  It is the ethic and nature of science to prosecute incremental risk in conjecture – a simple explanation puts little at risk – this is why it appears to fail less often. This is in part, an illusion.
Science is, the very task of introducing and resolving, incremental plurality. Rational thinking under Ockham’s Razor is the demonstrated ability to handle such plurality with integrity.

It is the simplicity sell of the pretend skeptic. They fail to understand Ockham’s Razor, so in 1972 they crafted this mutated version called Occam’s Razor, rendering all the loose ends wrapped up as ‘finished science’ in one felled swoop of fatal logic. Making the world easy to explain; facile for tender hearts from then on. Let’s take a more detailed look at both the scientific and virulent-error forms of Ockham’s Razor.

Fake Skepticism’s ‘Occam’s Razor’

We begin first with two clever variations of the infamous, itself simple and simultaneous appeal to both authority and ignorance: ‘Occam’s Razor’:

All things being equal, the simplest explanation tends to be the correct one.

or its ‘whoops, maybe that was not so scientific after all’ cousin,

Among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected.

All things being equal, that which is easy for most to understand, and as well conforms with an a priori stack of easy-to-understands, along with what I believe most scientists think, tends to obviate the need for any scientific investigation.

Within these two apothegms, the illusionist is exploiting the cache of obviousness, to imbue credibility into a broad-footprint, non-scientific weapon word called ‘simple’. These apothegms are not, nor do they have anything to do with, scientific skepticism. These statements constitute the most oft-quoted variants of pop-skepticism’s Occam’s Razor. Occam’s Razor is commonly employed as appeal to authority/reverence (the authority/chain of reverence in question is the apothegm itself, the celebrity skeptics who repeat it over and over, Carl Sagan, and William of Ockham himself – although a straw man contention in that final context). Neither constitutes in actuality the scientific principle, Ockham’s Razor.

Employing such statements as a final decision heuristic constitutes an Asch Conformity error, which is indeed a form of appeal to reverence/authority (see Argument from Authority/Cognitive Bias). The first one-liner above, popularized by Carl Sagan in the movie Contact, is a sleight of hand expression taught by Social Skeptics and often called ‘Occam’s Razor.’ It is employed errantly as this aforementioned twisted decision heuristic, abused 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 above 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 risky-but nothing put at risk provisional knowledge we are bringing to the argument.

See my commentary on the deceptive role of ‘simple’ inside science here: When Simple is Just Simply Wrong.

Neither does one even have to decide. I hope dear reader, that you caught the sleight-of-hand involved in this. Implicit within this version of Occam’s Razor 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 prematurely. These actions serve to obviate both the data aggregation and intelligence development steps of science; a fallacious gimmick employed to abrogate the scientific method. Among competing hypotheses, all things being equal, perhaps neither/none should be selected, regardless of our assumptions about their assumptions. Such wisdom would constitute a novel approach known as epoché (suspension and skepticism).

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. Simple, is in its essence an affirmation of a stack of probable conjecture, ignoring its risk-chain – whereas reduction-falsification is one single conjecture which places its risk in the crucible for all to see. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy expounds on the weakness of simple (stacked probable) 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.”1

You ever hear the expression ‘Simplest answer’s often the correct one’?” “Actually, I’ve never found that to be true.” – Gone Girl, 20142

A second sleight-of-hand plied by these statements is the conflation of simplicity and obviousness. Hearing hoof-beats behind you and deciding whether or not they are coming from horses or zebras – examples such as this bear no analogue to actual scientific hypothesis reduction. If one avoids stepping into traffic, one is not employing Ockham’s Razor. In philosophy, obviousness is not an analogue sufficient to justify an appeal to simplicity. Neither is simple necessarily analogue to straightforward (the actual scientific reduction practice). Beware of those who use the simple to justify the simple (see graphic above).

A simple explanation is not ‘easy to falsify’ as many skeptics claim – that is a misunderstanding of science method and inference. It is the ethic and nature of science to prosecute incremental risk in conjecture – a simple explanation puts little (nothing in reality) at risk and places all its ‘increment’ into one comprehensive multiple faceted assertion, and then hides its underpinning assumptions. Nothing in reality is placed at risk at all. 

A simple explanation is more difficult to reduce, probe for soundness and evaluate – often promoting the facile misconception that it is therefore ‘robust under examination’.

This is the same technique which a magician uses – exploiting an audience’s proclivity to seek the simplest or fewest-assumptions explanation.

Imagine if a magician started his show with ‘All things being equal, the simplest explanation tends to be the correct one’. He would quod erat demonstrandum, then be God by the end of the show. This is why a simple explanation only appears to fail less often. It is much more difficult to challenge, because it hides its epistemology. This is in part, an illusion. A very costly and uninformative illusion. Science is, the very task of employing the leverage power of reducing or falsifying the increment, and not affirming the ‘simple’ per se. For example, in terms of what is called inferential bootstrap strength in medical studies, one must establish a shitload of linear affirmations of standing wisdom, in order to counter for one violation of it (falsification). Because a single straightforward instance of violation (white crow) of our wisdom is vastly more scientifically informative (probative) than is any particular entire body of evidence linearly affirming it (thousands of black crows).

An Important Example: Pseudo-Deduction

A key example of both the misapplication of ‘simplicity’, and the abuse of Occam’s Razor to effect (and enforce) a conclusion, rather than qualify for plurality can be found below in a November 2019 article by Natalie Wolchover in Quanta Magazine. In this circumstance a team at the Universities of Rome, Manchester and Oxford employed an observation concerning the Cosmic Background Radiation to infer for sponsorship (not final proof, and this is key) that the universe may indeed be concave in its first four dimensions, back in upon itself (closed) – and not be flat, as is the current understanding.3

The data in question — the Planck space telescope’s observations of ancient light called the cosmic microwave background (CMB) — “clearly points towards a closed model,” said Alessandro Melchiorri of Sapienza University of Rome. He co-authored the new paper with Eleonora di Valentino of the University of Manchester and Joseph Silk, principally of the University of Oxford. In their view, the discordance between the CMB data, which suggests the universe is closed, and other data pointing to flatness represents a “cosmological crisis” that calls for “drastic rethinking.”

In response, cosmologist Antony Lewis abuses a bad teaching of ‘Occam’s Razor’ in order to misdefine simplicity as ‘that which is easy for most to understand, and as well conforms with an a priori stack of easy-to-understands, along with what I believe most scientists think’. As you can see, PhD’s can get this wrong too. The net result and probably most egregious error which Dr. Lewis plies here, involves as well the use of ‘Occam’s Razor’ as a conclusion heuristic – deriving a final answer in the here and now, with only the information we currently hold. This is not Ockham’s Razor’s purpose at all, and as an errant praxis is guaranteed to eventually produce a wrong answer, requiring Kuhn-Planck Paradigm Shift at some point in the future.

However, the team of scientists behind the Planck telescope reached different conclusions in their 2018 analysis. Antony Lewis, a cosmologist at the University of Sussex and a member of the Planck team who worked on that analysis, said the simplest explanation for the specific feature in the CMB data that di Valentino, Melchiorri and Silk interpreted as evidence for a closed universe “is that it is just a statistical fluke.” Lewis and other experts say they’ve already closely scrutinized the issue, along with related puzzles in the data.

The simplest explanation is that they are just wrong. I love that one. Corruption of the logical methods of science and inference. 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. What we observe in this important example of the abuse of Occam’s Razor are two informal fallacies and one formal fallacy (soundness) introduced via what is in effect, an errant philosophy of pseudo-deduction:

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 Fallacy of Soundness)

Through insisting that observations and data be falsely addressed as ‘claims’ needing immediate explanation, and through rejecting such a ‘claim’ (observation) based upon the idea that it introduces plurality (it is not simple), one effectively ensures that no observations will ever be recognized which serve 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 and observations are continuously discarded immediately, one at a time by means of being deemed ‘extraordinary claims’.

Finally, Occam’s Razor suffers from the fact that it can be employed to conceal pseudoscience, inside three surreptitious mistakes of agency, when allowed to impact requisite skepticism:

Utility Blindness

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.


Appearing neat and comprehensive only by ignoring the true complexities of an issue; superficial. Easily earned, arrived at or won – derived without the requisite rigor or effort. Something easy to understand, which is compatible with a predicate or associated stack of also easy-to-understands.

Ockham’s Inversion

The condition when the ‘rational or simple explanation’ requires so many risky, stacked or outlandish assumptions in order to make it viable, that is has become even more outlandish than the complex explanation it was originally posed against and was supposed to surpass in likelihood. Similarly, a condition wherein the proposed ‘more likely or simple’ alternative is just as outlandish in reality as is the originally considered one.

Perhaps a more valid expression describing this principle is bound up in the popular equivocal version of Ockham’s Razor:

Entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily.

With this aphorism, we begin to encroach upon the valid principles which underpin the real Ockham’s Razor (below). 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. The actual principle does indeed involve a discretion of ‘entities’; however, the actual role of Ockham’s Razor, the real scientific principle, is to begin the scientific method by means of managing entities, not complete it in one felled swoop of denial (Occam’s Razor).


“Pluralitas non est ponenda sine neccesitate” or “Plurality should not be posited without necessity”

Summa Totius Logicae, William of Ockham (frater Occham)

What Ockham’s Razor asks us to prefer is the straightforward over the complicated, not simple over the complex. Understanding the difference is absolutely essential to scientific literacy.

william-of-ockham cutThe words are those of the medieval English philosopher and Franciscan monk William of Ockham (ca. 1287-1347).4 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).5 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,6 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’.7 So, as we step back into the proper context of original usage (case example: Neanderthal d. 1856 as proper over the later French to German Valley name change to ‘Neandertal’ d. 1904)8this does not mean that science also therefore must change the spelling of the original entity because the village after which it was named changed theirs at a later time. In similar fashion as regards 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, ie. not a decision heuristic), 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, risk element stacked or agenda driven theories. This renders Ockham’s Razor more a discipline of economy, and not in the least the decision heuristic it is sold as by social skeptics. Not because the ideas which it may screen 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.

When this is done as a matter of convenience in order to make the pseudo-principle go viral, or push selected answers, this is called being advantageously obtuse.

Advantageously Obtuse (Bridgman Reduction)

/philosophy : pseudo-philosophy/ : a principle which has been translated, reduced or dumbed-down for consumption so as to appear to be a ‘simple’ version of its source principle; however, which has been compromised through such a process. Thereby making it easy to communicate among the vulnerable who fail to grasp its critical elements, and moreover to serve as an apothegm useful in enforcing specific desired conclusions. Statements such as ‘the burden of proof lies on the claimant’ or ‘the simplest explanation tends to be correct’ – stand as twisted, viral forms of their parent principles, which contend ironically, critically or completely different standards of thought.

plurality 2However, it is the latter half of this definition of Ockham’s Razor which is rendered advantageously obtuse by those in the social skepticism movement. One critical element of 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:


/philosophy : scientific method : construct and theory discipline/ : the resistance to expand explanatory plurality or descriptive complexity beyond what is absolutely necessary, combined with the wisdom to know when to do so. Avoidance of unnecessarily orphan questions, even if apparently incremental in the offing.

To understand the role of Ockham’s Razor parsimony inside the concepts of elegance and design, see The Nature of Elegance. 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.

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.

Abuse of ‘Occam’s’ Razor to Effect Knowledge Filtering

Knowledge FilteringOne 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.

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.

Sometimes what is celebrated as simple, is in reality merely obtuse.

     How to MLA cite this article:

The Ethical Skeptic, “Ethical Skepticism – Part 5 – The Real Ockham’s Razor”; The Ethical Skeptic, WordPress, 30 Jun 2013; Web,

June 30, 2013 Posted by | Agenda Propaganda, Argument Fallacies, Ethical Skepticism, Institutional Mandates | , , , , , , | 3 Comments


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