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Occam's Razor

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  • hibbsa
    Would the following arrangement violate Occam s Razor: - A single methodology that initializes with the assumption the answer will be complex not simple
    Message 1 of 6 , Jan 24, 2013
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      Would the following arrangement violate Occam's Razor:

      - A single methodology that initializes with the assumption the 'answer'
      will be complex not simple (maybe assumes some sort of maximum or
      infinite-in-the-limit complexity), but progressively approximates to the
      simplest possible explanation?

      The way I see it, this setup is legitimate in Occam terms, if the
      legitimacy of an arbitrary occam-correct explanation is unaffected by
      the origin of that explanation. For example, it could come by a random
      guess, or a creative process....or indeed some sort of 'guiding' method.

      Opinions appreciated.
    • David Deutsch
      ... Occam s razor is too vague for there to be a well-defined answer to that question of whether that variant of it violates it or not. But I think the variant
      Message 2 of 6 , Jan 29, 2013
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        On 25 Jan 2013, at 03:13, hibbsa <asbbih@...> wrote:

        >
        > Would the following arrangement violate Occam's Razor:
        >
        > - A single methodology that initializes with the assumption the 'answer'
        > will be complex not simple (maybe assumes some sort of maximum or
        > infinite-in-the-limit complexity), but progressively approximates to the
        > simplest possible explanation?
        >
        > The way I see it, this setup is legitimate in Occam terms, if the
        > legitimacy of an arbitrary occam-correct explanation is unaffected by
        > the origin of that explanation. For example, it could come by a random
        > guess, or a creative process....or indeed some sort of 'guiding' method.
        >
        > Opinions appreciated.

        Occam's razor is too vague for there to be a well-defined answer to that question of whether that variant of it violates it or not.

        But I think the variant has the same flaws as the original. One of them is that the 'simplicity' or 'complexity' of an explanation itself depends on how one judges explanations (i.e. aside from by their 'simplicity'). For instance, a devoutly religious person might claim that their world view conforms to Occam's razor because "God did it" is a very simple explanation of the origin of things like the distinction between right and wrong, or the laws of physics. An atheist would take the view that the 'simplicity' of the God hypothesis is purely formal and that the hypothesis by itself isn't an explanation of those things at all. So in the atheist's view, the religious person is using complex, unacknowledged explanations and just *calling* them a simple name, and so is violating Occam's razor.

        Similarly, the religious person might also claim that their world view conforms to the variant methodology, since although God is infinitely simple, 'The Answer' to the mystery of His nature becomes ever more complex as one understands it more, but is at each stage the simplest explanation. And then the atheist might go on to say that the religious person's increasingly complex ideas about 'The Answer' are merely more and more complicated ways of evading the flaws in the original hypothesis, and therefore are neither truly complex nor truly explanations. And therefore that the religious person isn't conforming to the variant methodology either.

        This disagreement between the religious person and the atheist about what does or doesn't violate Occam's razor is not being conducted according to the rule of simplicity, nor according to the variant methodology, but by different criteria. And in fact there is no substance to their dispute about what explanation to adopt, other than those additional criteria. Simplicity isn't playing a role at all.

        -- David Deutsch
      • a b
        ... Hi DD - Your reply is much appreicated. If I could just explain that I was totally aware that the concept of Good (hard-to-vary) explanations totally
        Message 3 of 6 , Jan 31, 2013
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          On Tue, Jan 29, 2013 at 10:45 AM, David Deutsch <david.deutsch@...> wrote:
          >
          >
          >
          >
          > On 25 Jan 2013, at 03:13, hibbsa asbbih@...> wrote:
          >
          > >
          > > Would the following arrangement violate Occam's Razor:
          > >
          > > - A single methodology that initializes with the assumption the 'answer'
          > > will be complex not simple (maybe assumes some sort of maximum or
          > > infinite-in-the-limit complexity), but progressively approximates to the
          > > simplest possible explanation?
          > >
          > > The way I see it, this setup is legitimate in Occam terms, if the
          > > legitimacy of an arbitrary occam-correct explanation is unaffected by
          > > the origin of that explanation. For example, it could come by a random
          > > guess, or a creative process....or indeed some sort of 'guiding' method.
          > >
          > > Opinions appreciated.
          >
          > Occam's razor is too vague for there to be a well-defined answer to that
          > question of whether that variant of it violates it or not.
          >
          > But I think the variant has the same flaws as the original. One of them is
          > that the 'simplicity' or 'complexity' of an explanation itself depends on
          > how one judges explanations (i.e. aside from by their 'simplicity'). For
          > instance, a devoutly religious person might claim that their world view
          > conforms to Occam's razor because "God did it" is a very simple explanation
          > of the origin of things like the distinction between right and wrong, or the
          > laws of physics. An atheist would take the view that the 'simplicity' of the
          > God hypothesis is purely formal and that the hypothesis by itself isn't an
          > explanation of those things at all. So in the atheist's view, the religious
          > person is using complex, unacknowledged explanations and just *calling* them
          > a simple name, and so is violating Occam's razor.
          >
          > Similarly, the religious person might also claim that their world view
          > conforms to the variant methodology, since although God is infinitely
          > simple, 'The Answer' to the mystery of His nature becomes ever more complex
          > as one understands it more, but is at each stage the simplest explanation.
          > And then the atheist might go on to say that the religious person's
          > increasingly complex ideas about 'The Answer' are merely more and more
          > complicated ways of evading the flaws in the original hypothesis, and
          > therefore are neither truly complex nor truly explanations. And therefore
          > that the religious person isn't conforming to the variant methodology
          > either.
          >
          > This disagreement between the religious person and the atheist about what
          > does or doesn't violate Occam's razor is not being conducted according to
          > the rule of simplicity, nor according to the variant methodology, but by
          > different criteria. And in fact there is no substance to their dispute about
          > what explanation to adopt, other than those additional criteria. Simplicity
          > isn't playing a role at all.
          >
          > -- David Deutsch

          Hi DD - Your reply is much appreicated. If I could just explain that I
          was totally aware that the concept of Good (hard-to-vary) explanations
          totally eclipsed both what Occam probably wanted to accomplish, and
          what if any extent his "Occam's Razar" accomplished it. I also accept
          the basic criticism of Occam Razor most damningly vagueness.

          However I believed that given the purpose I had in mind, my question
          was still legitimate with all of the above being accepted. This is
          because I only seek a placeholder counter-argument that anticipated
          the reader would ditch my argument at a certain point based on a
          reasonable estimate of the reader's perception of Occam's Razor and
          the importance attached to it.... and the appearance to that reaer I
          had just violated it.

          Given the absense of any dependence on the explanatory/philosophical
          status of Occam's Razor I see no inconsistency with your philosophy
          (if allowing for some legitimate problem to be solved etc). The reason
          I threw the question into FoR was because I drew on part of your
          philosophy to construct my 'placeholder argument'. My hope is for
          criticism/feedback of specifically that.

          The part of your philosophy is the distinction drawn between the
          creative or otherwise source/origin of explanations, and the final
          explanation as presented for criticism. So stated, namely where an
          explanation 'comes from' is neither a source of - or for - criticism
          in context of the explanation itself.

          Therefore, I reasoned, any perception on the part of the reader of
          violation of Occam's Razor in my reasoning, can be refuted if the
          component of reasoning in question refers only to creative or
          otherwise 'source' or 'origin' by which comes about the explanation I
          ultimately intend for that audience.

          I guess my question is summarized do I correctly draw on the component
          of your philosophy that distinguishes the 'source' (creative or
          otherwise) of explanations from the product...that being the
          explanation as presented for criticism?

          p.s. the reason I didn't try to say all this to start with was because
          I knew how unpromising anything about Occam would look and guessed
          you'd not bother with anything longer than a couple of sentences :O)
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