what is Occam’s Razor?


what is Occam’s Razor?

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Occam’s razor is a philosophical concept that says that when you are faced with competing hypotheses, you should tend towards the one that makes fewer assumptions.

In layman’s terms, pick the simpler explanation.

There’s an old saying “when you hear hoof beats at the ranch, think horses, not zebras.” That’s a good example of Occam’s Razor. You hear hoof beats – what’s a more likely explanation – a horse, or a zebra? Well for it to be a zebra, how did it get here? Did it escape from the zoo? From some rich guy’s private compound? For it to be a horse, well, we’re at a ranch, that’s where horses live!

It is a rule of thumb used when evaluating different hypotheses. It states that _all things being equal_ one should _prefer_ the simplest explanation. So, when you have evidence that equally supports two different hypotheses, you should work with the one that has the least number of variables or assumptions first, only moving on to the more complex one when the simple one is disproven.

For example, if you walk into your kitchen and a glass of water is spilt, it could either be due to:

A) Your cat jumped on the counter and knocked it over

B) Someone broke into your house, leaving no trace, and dumped the water before leaving.

The Razor would say that the cat hypothesis is preferable, as there are far fewer assumptions required for it to be true.

Now, this doesn’t mean that the cat hypothesis **is** true – you need more testing and evidence to demonstrate that. All it means is that until new evidence comes along, you should go with the cat hypothesis because it is simpler.

KISS: Keep It Simple, Stupid.

The idea is that if there are two (or more) different explanations for something and no evidence to say it’s one rather than the other, then you might as well opt for the simpler one.

An example is the solar system. For a while, there were competing ideas for how the stars and planets moved through the sky. One explanation was that the earth was orbiting around the sun and spinning, as were all the other planets, and the moon was orbiting the earth. The other theory was that everything moved in different rings around the earth. But, to explain some of the motions of some of the planets (e.g. “retrograde” motion), you needed some of the planets to go round extra loops and things. Since space travel wasn’t a thing at that point, the switch to the sun-centered explanation came because the earth-centered one was just too complicated. Even if it were correct, the maths was so hard that you were better off using the sun-centered one!

occams razor is when you have a question the answer that makes the least ammound of assumption is probably the right one.

for example: what are cats?

you could argue that they are aliens sent from another world to… uhhh… yea… what do they do… why do they do it… why do they care… how did they get here and when… uhhh… yea….

or they could just be cats and they simply evolved on this planet.

one of these answers makes less assumptions than the other so according to occams razor it is _more likely_ to be true