Occam’s razor [Ockhams Messer]`

… is a scientific method, helping to choose amongst competing hypotheses the one making the fewest new assumptions when they are equal in all other respects. This does not make it logically irrefutable but the most plausible and preferred due to its simplicity.

Often, this principle is simply referred to the term razor meaning Occam’s razor… English favour abbreviations.

Allow me to present some background information.

Aesthetic

Prior to the 20th century, it was a commonly-held belief that nature itself was simple and the simpler a proposed explanation of anything in nature was the more likely it was to be true. This notion was deeply rooted in the aesthetic value simplicity holds for human thought, ear and vision and the justifications presented for it was often drawn from theology.

Thomas of Aquinas posted the following argument in the 13th century when writing:

“If a thing can be done adequately by means of one, it is superfluous to do it by means of several; for we observe, nature does not employ two instruments if one suffices.”

Wilhelm

Wilhelm of Ockham, an English Franciscan friar (1287–1347) is remembered as an influential nominalist (see appendix) but his popular fame as a great logician rests chiefly on the maxim attributed to him and known as Occam’s razor.

I am sure you noticed the different ways of spelling of Wilhelm’s surname. The spelling mistake, turning Ockham into Occam, the English-speaking scientific world has been blatantly ignorant about.

Previous to the inclusion of English as a language of science, Occam’s razor was Ockhams Messer (German), literally translated Ockham’s knife.  The written and often spoken language amongst scholars of Europe was Latin and secondly, German.

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The first part of the razor most often found in Ockham’s work is:

Numquam ponenda est pluralitas sine necessitate.

[Plurality must never be posited without necessity.]

And a variation of the above:

Frustra fit per plura quod potest fieri per pauciora
[It is futile to do with more things which can be done with fewer.]

For Ockham, the only essential entity is God; everything else, the whole of creation, is radically contingent through and through.

The second essential condition of what is known today as The Occam’s Razor:

Caeteris Paribus

[with other things the same, or all other things being equal or held constant.]

This phrase has been added later to the simplified or generalised expression of Ockham’s original statement.

Today, Ockham’s razor sound like this:

“Simpler explanations are,
other things being equal,
generally better
than more complex ones.”

occkhams
from Wikipedia

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You may wonder why the word Messer or knife or razor has been used to describe Ockham’s rule. Perhaps, by applying this rule, one is offered a systematic approach to either shave away unnecessary assumptions in a hypothesis helping to make the statement simpler.

It could also be seen as cutting or trimming two similar theories by reducing them to simpler and thus more essential versions, which previously only may have sounded similar.

Appendix

Nominalism is a metaphysical view in philosophy according to which general or abstract terms and predicates exist.  The Latin word nomino means name.  (In nomine Padre…)

Let me explain: In the real world, the name of an object and its form and appearance are always related and their connection essential… an aeroplane (something flat in the air), a rolling pin (a pin suitable for being rolled) or a house (something to house something), for example.

or…. A name may relate to a physical and non‑physical object, but if the name refers only to an abstract object, this name does not exist. The existence of a name requires the connection with reality.

In the real world universal or abstract objects, which are sometimes thought to correspond to realistic terms, do not exist.  An abstract object can be one which has not been discovered, yet.  Here is an example: Electricity existed before it was discovered.  It had to exist because otherwise, it could not have been discovered.  Did it have a name before its discovery?  Nominalism says, yes.

The existence of something does not depend on it having been discovered by human beings.  There are more of us who don’t know what scientists know.

In the 13th century, there was a clear connection between metaphysics and reality. Slowly, scientists return to this… belief?

Ω

Amadeus W.
Ingeneer

Collected and written, 8 June 2011

Why ingeneer?
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