Occam’s razor

There are a number of objectionable strategies that are sometimes used in discussions. Occam’s razor, properly applied, means that among several competing explanations for something, the simplest is the most likely.
In the hands of fools, it becomes a tool for declaring explanations to be true, because they’re simpler than some other possible explanation that they’ve chosen.
I have a negative reaction to this type of argument, just as I do with many of the arguments coming from people who describe themselves as rational. “If you think about it …” is thrown around too lightly.

But this article is not a diatribe against of Occam’s razor, which I like as a principle. Rather, I want to say that I find it a difficult principle to apply. I have a hard time finding the simplest and likeliest explanations, and a natural tendency to think in convoluted webs of cause and effect.

For instance: the last couple of years, come winter, my knuckes have been becoming dry and chapped. No matter that I put cream on them and treated them gingerly, my poor knuckles suffered well into spring. Oddly, my lips were just fine.
What were my explanations for this? An effect of growing old, or perhaps, some nutritional deficiency that was leaving my skin weakened to the elements.
I found the right explanation after my third consecutive winter of knuckle redness: my gloves had an inner seam that was rubbing my knuckles raw.
A few weeks after replacing my gloves, my knuckles are as good as new.

I’m particularly thick in this department. My mind finds simple things too mundane.

But I’m not alone. In fact I see offense to simple thinking all around me. An example: people looking with dissatisfaction at the photos they take, and envying some friend’s photos. The likely explanation: their friend has practiced more, has taken more shots and chosen to show less of them, has learned composition, and has mastered his camera. The explanation likely chosen: the friend’s camera, or lens, is better. Boy that Nikon sure is better than my dumpy Canon. Man, what I could do with that pro lens.

Another one: this woman, or man, is being cruel to me, playing hot and cold, being inconsistent. Probably a sadist. The likely explanation: that person is not thinking at all about you.

Complicated explanations can be true, of course, and often they’re more interesting. Nothing wrong with getting lost in some mental mazes now and then.


About Jaime Silvela

My favorite chemical element is Potassium.
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3 Responses to Occam’s razor

  1. viejecita says:

    I loved this comment of yours:

    – In a roundabout way, it admits the validity of those annoying mother warnings of the “put something warmer on”, “eat properly”, “sleep enough”, kind.
    – About photos ; The one who takes them cares about the light, the colour, the angle, and is usually disappointed with the result, which does not usually reach the image they had in their head while taking the photo. Whereas, the one who looks at the photo, sees what he sees, without any ideal image to compare it to, so it stands on it’s proper merits, and it is more likely to be thought great by someone who did not shoot it.

    – On the subject of anyone not being “into you “, no one can be forced into having good taste. If they don’t care, well then, that is their loss .
    But yes, it is hard to see oneself as irrelevant as others can see one.

  2. viejecita says:

    One other thing ( not to worry, it is short and I’ll go away fast after that )
    I often like your friends’s photos better than yours, after your trips. The reason is that you appear in their photos, but almost never in yours .
    There !

  3. Occam's Pants says:

    I think you’re confusing two separate things. The first is a simple problem to solve – cause and effect. Change one and the problem is resolved. The second and third examples, are on the surface simple – but they’re not. They are layered, emotional responses – formed after years of individual experience – unique to that person. What can be so simple looking in from the outside can be a swirling fog to the person on the inside. But you can guarantee, deep down that the person knows the truth, they just don’t want to hear it.

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