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Re: Winston Wu on Occam's Razor and its misuse

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  • Ruby Honey
    ... You know, you are often the one going on about how no one wants to discuss things, blah blah and yet you can t help yourself from making smirky ass
    Message 1 of 6 , Jul 8, 2003
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      --- In debunkingdebunkers@yahoogroups.com, thevirtualgreek <no_reply@y...> wrote:
      > --- In debunkingdebunkers@yahoogroups.com, rubyhoney
      > <rubyhoney97402@y...> wrote:
      > > More Winston Wu:
      >
      > I wonder if he's still trying to magick his girlfriend into coming
      > back to him?
      >
      > ~~ Paul

      You know, you are often the one going on about how no one wants to discuss things, blah blah and yet you
      can't help yourself from making smirky ass comments like the one above, instead of actually discussing the
      points he's brought up regarding the misuse of Occam's Razor amongst the skeptoids.

      ~ r
    • Christopher Crosdale
      The truth is that Occam s is no more precise than any other means of decision.  It is merely a guideline for those with a tendency toward not believing
      Message 2 of 6 , Jul 9, 2003
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        The truth is that Occam's is no more precise than any other means of decision.  It is merely a guideline for those with a tendency toward not believing bizarre claims. 
         
        For instance, a homeless person could come running up to you in the street and say that they are being chased by the CIA because they had alien babies implanted in their brain and the CIA is trying to sell the eggs to the mafia for money to buy laser guns from the KGB....
         
        After all, it COULD be true.. But some would make the bland assumption that the person was a paranoid schizophrenic and the story was delusional.
         
        If the Occam's theory is too much, you should invent an anti-Occam's Razor:  "When there are two competing explanations for an event, the more complex one is more likely".
         
        Or the more wishy-washy, "When there are two competing explanations for an event, both might be true" 
         
        C. 
        -----Original Message-----
        From: rubyhoney [mailto:rubyhoney97402@...]
        Sent: Tuesday, July 08, 2003 4:00 PM
        To: debunkingdebunkerstwo@yahoogroups.com; debunkingdebunkers@yahoogroups.com; mothmanandmibs@yahoogroups.com; animaloddities@yahoogroups.com; bashingjeffrense@yahoogroups.com; saucerrant@yahoogroups.com
        Subject: [Debunking Debunkers] Winston Wu on Occam's Razor and its misuse

        More Winston Wu:

        Debunking Common Skeptical Arguments Against Paranormal and Psychic Phenomena

        Argument # 3: The Occam's Razor rule

        Typical usage: "When there are two competing explanations for an event, the simpler one is more likely."

        This argument is a principle that skeptics often misuse to try to force alternate explanations to a paranormal events, even if those explanations involve false accusations or do not fit the facts. This principle was popularized by scientist Carl Sagan in his novel turned movie "Contact", where Jodie Foster quotes it while during a conversation with a theist to defend her belief that God doesn't exist. (Ironically, at the end of the movie it is used against her in a public interrogation by a National Security Agent.) However, an analysis on the facts and assumptions of this argument reveals some obvious problems.

        1) First of all, Occam's Razor, termed by 14th Century logician and friar William of Occam, refers to a concept that states that "Entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily." It was not intended to be used to evaluate claims of the paranormal as skeptics today use it for. As Phil Gibbs points out in "Physics FAQ": (http://www.weburbia.com/physics/)

        "To begin with we used Occam's razor to separate theories which would predict the same result for all experiments. Now we are trying to choose between theories which make different predictions. This is not what Occam intended……..

        The principle of simplicity works as a heuristic rule-of-thumb but some people quote it as if it is an axiom of physics. It is not. It can work well in philosophy or particle physics, but less often so in cosmology or psychology, where things usually turn out to be more complicated than you ever expected. Perhaps a quote from Shakespeare would be more appropriate than Occam's razor: "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

        "The law of parsimony is no substitute for insight, logic and the scientific method. It should never be relied upon to make or defend a conclusion. As arbiters of correctness only logical consistency and empirical evidence are absolute."

        Even Isaac Newton didn't use Occam's Razor like the skeptics of today do. His version of it was "We are to admit no more causes of natural things than such as are both true and sufficient to explain their appearances." (see same Physics FAQ) Obviously, he was referring to explanations to explain natural phenomena, not paranormal or supernatural phenomena!

        2) Second, what is "simpler" is often relative. As Phil Gibbs points out in the same Physics FAQ:

        "Simplicity is subjective and the universe does not always have the same ideas about simplicity as we do."

        3) Third, even if we take Occam's Razor at face value the way skeptics use it, just because one explanation is more likely doesn't mean that it's always the correct one. For example, if I toss a die, it is more likely that I will get numbers 1-5 than it is that I will roll a 6. But that doesn't mean that a 6 will never come up. Therefore, occasionally an unlikely explanation can be expected to be true sometimes. However, skeptics treat Occam's Razor as if it were an absolute rule and use it as an excuse for denying any claim, no matter how valid.

        4) Fourth, while Occam's Razor may be a good rule of thumb, the problem with it is that skeptics tend to use it as an excuse to insert false explanations over paranormal ones. They will do this even if it means denying the facts and assuming things that aren't true or didn't happen. For example, if someone had an amazing psychic reading at a psychic fair (not prearranged) where they were told something very specific that couldn't have been guessed by cold reading, skeptics would start inventing false accusations such as: "Someone who knew you must have tipped off the psychic in advance", "A spy in the room must have overheard you mention the specific detail before the reading", "You must have something in your appearance that reveals the detail", "You must have remembered it wrong since memory is fallible", etc. Even if none of these accusations are true, skeptics will still insist on it simply because it's the simpler explanation to them.

        Similarly, when someone during an NDE or OBE hears a conversation or witnesses something many miles away and later upon verification, it turns out to be true, the skeptics will say that the simpler explanation is that the patient knew about the detail or conversation beforehand but forgot it. Likewise, if someone has a close up encounter of Bigfoot, skeptics will use Occam's Razor to claim that it is more likely that the experiencer was either lying or hallucinating. Even if none of those alternate explanations are true, skeptics will still insist on them anyway, using Occam's Razor as justification.

        Hence, they prefer a false non-paranormal explanation, even if untrue, rather than accept the truth that it happened the way described. This is clearly a case of bias rather than objectivity. What skeptics don't seem to understand is that reality is not confined or measured by Occam's Razor, and the use of Occam's Razor in this manner does nothing but impede progress and learning.



        At no time, when the astronauts were in space were they alone: there was a constant surveillance by UFOs ~ Astronaut Scott Carpenter


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      • thevirtualgreek
        ... discuss things, blah blah and yet you ... above, instead of actually discussing the ... amongst the skeptoids. Ruby, I already posted the rebuttal to his
        Message 3 of 6 , Jul 9, 2003
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          --- In debunkingdebunkers@yahoogroups.com, "Ruby Honey"
          <rubyhoney97402@y...> wrote:
          > You know, you are often the one going on about how no one wants to
          discuss things, blah blah and yet you
          > can't help yourself from making smirky ass comments like the one
          above, instead of actually discussing the
          > points he's brought up regarding the misuse of Occam's Razor
          amongst the skeptoids.

          Ruby, I already posted the rebuttal to his logic fallacy-fest. You
          responded by saying the the rebuttal was nit-picky and of course Wu
          had lots of good points. What is the purpose of discussing the
          specific points if you're going to ignore the details of the problems
          and just laud his overall "feeling"? If you want to pick some of his
          points and discuss the actual content, I'm ready to go.

          Winston Wu is a weird dude. I don't usually emphasize someone's
          weirdness, but in this case I'm bound by conscience to do so ;-) He
          used some of these spells in an attempt to get his girlfriend back:

          http://www.spellmaker.com

          Yag! It's all over sci.skeptic.

          ~~ Paul
        • thevirtualgreek
          ... toward not ... Occam is useful in science because we don t want theories to be more complex than necessary. Occam isn t all that useful for day-to- day
          Message 4 of 6 , Jul 9, 2003
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            --- In debunkingdebunkers@yahoogroups.com, "Christopher Crosdale"
            <cacrosdale2002@y...> wrote:
            > The truth is that Occam's is no more precise than any other means of
            > decision.  It is merely a guideline for those with a tendency
            toward not
            > believing bizarre claims. 

            Occam is useful in science because we don't want theories to be more
            complex than necessary. Occam isn't all that useful for day-to-
            day "theories," because it is usually the case that one or both of
            the competing theories don't explain all the facts anyway.

            ~~ Paul
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