Eli5 Occam’s Razor

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Eli5 Occam’s Razor

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Basically keep something as simple as possible when it comes to questions. Dont try to overthink because the answer is usually simpler than you think.

The simplest explanation is the answer.

Example, there’s smoke in the kitchen. It’s probably coming from the stove I accidentally left on.

William of Ockham’s problem solving principle dates back to Aristotle, but “other things being equal, simpler explanations are better than more complex ones” isn’t quite a simple idea as it first appears and can be misunderstood. – https://youtu.be/Md60Y6QlfkE

Occam’s Razor in its basic form is the idea that if you have two competing theories that make the exact same prediction, the simpler one is the better one, because it’s easier to test and utilize.

It’s been expanded a lot in modern thought to also include problem solving: we often say that the simplest explanation is more likely to be correct than a more complex one. People often use it incorrectly and say that the simplest explanation is *usually* true, but this isn’t always the case. It’s better to say that the simplest explanation is a better starting point, unless more evidence comes along.

If we wanted to use a simple example, let’s say that I go to the restroom and when I come back to my desk, and the muffin that I left on the desk is now gone, while my dog is sitting in the corner of the room looking upset. A simple explanation would be that my dog ate my muffin and is now worried that he’ll get in trouble (and he will). A more complicated explanation might be that a bird flew in through a window and stole my muffin, upsetting my dog. Or that a burglar broke in and stole my muffin and nothing else, scaring my dog. Or even that my muffin spontaneously combusted, leaving no evidence that it ever existed. Occam’s razor tells me that before I start worrying about open windows or broken locks, I should just sniff my dog’s breath to see if it smells like blueberries or see if there’s crumbs on his face, because that would be a very simple explanation. If it doesn’t fit, then I might have to start looking for other solutions (checking for open windows, making sure my door is locked, re-evaluating my knowledge of physics…), but I shouldn’t start with those more complicated scenarios and ignore the simple one. They all require more assumptions to make sense, so we should start wherever the fewest assumptions should be made. My dog theory only requires one assumption – dogs like food. Let’s start there.

Heres a practical example:
You want to find out how fast sea roses spread on a water surface. You plant 1 rose on day 1. On day 2, there are already 2 roses, on day 3, there are 4 roses, on day 4, there are 8 roses.

Now you think about general rules that would explain this:
1.
The sea roses double every day.
2. The sea roses randomly change their numbers, and it just happened to be like this.
3. The sea roses doubles for the first days, but at some point it will triple each day.
4. The sea roses dont spread at all and some maniac just plants more at night.

All of them are possible, but one is simple and easy to test. The others can still be correct, but when many hypothesis can be right, the simplest one is easiest to work with. Thats occams razor and its meant to “protect” you from finding more complex than necessary hypotheses.