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 fell 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, affording one permission to wrap up all epistemological loose ends as ‘finished science’ in one fell swoop of fatal logic. Thereby rendering the world simple 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.
What is really being stated with these apothegms:
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 actual 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.
A Simpleton’s Game
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-actually-placed-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 soundness-thru-simplicity. Such wisdom by means of suspended judgment 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. 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 pertains to obviousness, not simplicity. Examples such as this are misleading as analogues 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.
Ethical Skeptic’s Axiom
Accurate, is simple. But that does not serve to make simple, therefore accurate.
One litmus of a cult resides in that it produces an ever-evolving fan fiction. A cult message is simple, but reveals itself to be highly complicated over time. A scientific understanding is complex, but grows to become straightforward over time.
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:
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.
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).
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)
Ockham’s Razor does not in reality urge us to ‘select’ any alternative at all.
What Ockham’s Razor asks us to understand foremost are the valid Wittgenstein states of being ‘straightforward’ versus ‘complex’, and how that objectivity contrasts with the misleading semantics of ‘simple’ versus ‘complicated’. Understanding the difference is absolutely essential to scientific literacy.
The 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)8 – this 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.
Bridgman Point – the point at which a principle can no longer be dumbed-down any further, without sacrifice of its coherency, accuracy, salience or context.
However, 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.
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
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.
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.
The Ethical Skeptic, “Ethical Skepticism – Part 5 – The Real Ockham’s Razor”; The Ethical Skeptic, WordPress, 30 Jun 2013; Web, https://wp.me/p17q0e-1GU