When reduced to its simplest form, Occam’s Razor is an analytical principle that posits ‘when two or more theories predict the same result, the simplest solution is generally the right solution.’
A scientific variant of keep it simple, stupid.
The fourteenth century philosopher, William of Ockham, was an English Franciscan friar and theologian. While famously contributing to social, scientific, and religious thinking of the time, William ironically never used the phrase Occam’s Razor in his writing. And he was not without controversy.
William of Ockham is best known for his work on nominalism. Heretical during the High Middle Ages, nominalism tackles the ontological and epistemological issues of the nature of reality being absent of “universals.” These abstract concepts do not exist in the same way as physical, tangible material. According to nominalism, reality only exists in “particulars.”
Nominalism flies squarely in the face of realism. Upheld by Plato and Aristotle for over a thousand years and furthered by Thomas Aquinas not even one hundred years earlier, realism relies on both universals and particulars coexisting for a comprehensive explanation of reality.
For example: a nominalist views ‘orange’ as an abstract concept, a universal. A clementine is orange. A sunset is orange. Donald Trump is orange. These objects (clementine, sunset, Trump) labeled by the same term (orange) have nothing in common other than the fact they are all the same color.
Orange, therefore, does not exist, as it is too subjective and general. It is simply a verbal abstraction and convention of language. A realist view would accept that the universal descriptor (orange) can comfortably exist alongside the particular object (clementine, sunset, Trump).
Fascinating and heady shit, but not really the point of this article.
Here is the bottom line: Occam’s Razor was the natural byproduct of William’s nominalist thinking. By accepting and studying the object itself versus the descriptors or generalizations about the object, we then develop theories that can whittle reality down to its simplest, most logical form.
We all must reach conclusions about things in our lives based on the evidence presented to us. Let’s examine 10 practical, common scenarios that life presents us with on a daily basis and the conclusions we reach by applying Occam’s Razor.
As you consider each of the following observations, ask yourself: which is the simplest conclusion? A or B?
OBSERVATION 1: A bicyclist lies bleeding on the side of the road in front of my car.
- CONCLUSION A. The bicyclist cut me off, and I ran him down in a fit of psychotic road rage.
- CONCLUSION B. A giant pterodactyl swooped down from the sky, mauling the bicyclist after escaping from a secret island research lab. I slam on my brakes to snap a pic of the aftermath.
OBSERVATION 2: I have terrible explosive diarrhea that seems to move on its own in the toilet bowl.
- CONCLUSION A. I ate raw pork bacon when I was super high. I have worms.
- CONCLUSION B. I am witnessing the creation of life in that my healthy diet and rigorous exercise regimen has now enabled me, as a man, to birth a new form of life. From my ass. Howdy Ho!
OBSERVATION 3: Garbage cans are knocked over in my open garage.
- CONCLUSION A. Raccoons battled over my discarded Chipotle from three nights ago. Third try at carne asada. Still cold. Still sucked.
- CONCLUSION B. Oscar the Grouch hitchhiked from Sesame Street after a gentrification-driven eviction, saw my garage door open, and tried to make himself at home. Can was too small, and a pissed off Oscar ransacked the place in a fit of spurned Muppet rage.
OBSERVATION 4: My daughter fails her college Statistics test.
- CONCLUSION A. She did not study enough, opting for keg stands and bong hits instead.
- CONCLUSION B. Her mousy brown-haired professor detests gingers and, in a fit of jealous contempt, writes a particularly difficult, nasty, and personalized test for her that even Florence Nightingale would fail.
OBSERVATION 5: Japan cancels 2020 Olympics.
- CONCLUSION A. Coronavirus global plague spreading out of control. Japan is protecting the world’s top athletes.
- CONCLUSION B. Reanimated Godzilla returns to battle in Tokyo with Rodan, Mothra, and Ghidorah on his way to refuel by eating the North Korean nuclear arsenal. Japan keeps the decimation and devastation hush hush out of shame and dishonor.
OBSERVATION 6: My niece is suddenly pregnant.
- CONCLUSION A. Her boyfriend’s ‘spray and pray’ birth control technique was an epic fail. Good job, Chad.
- CONCLUSION B. This is the second immaculate conception in known history. Except this time Chad is sterile, and the father is Satan. Their son, Damian, is due in six weeks, six hours, and six days.
OBSERVATION 7: My car has a flat tire in the driveway Sunday morning.
- CONCLUSION A. I ran over a nail when I drove home buzzed from the bar through the construction site, avoiding the police roadblock down the road.
- CONCLUSION B. My dickhead neighbor, Gary, stole my weed whacker. Honestly, I kinda forgot about it for three years, but then when I remembered, I asked Gary to give it back. He said I never gave it to him and told me to get off his property. But Gary didn’t know I saw it in his wife’s ‘she-shed’ behind their house. So, I snuck out Saturday night after avoiding the police roadblock and burned down her stupid ‘she-shed.’ Gary definitely slashed my tires. I don’t care, I win. Up yours, Gary.
OBSERVATION 8: My man bits are bleeding. I’m scared.
- CONCLUSION A. Need to work on my manscaping skills with either duller tools or a steadier hand. Maybe watch a little less Sweeney Todd. Painful date with a styptic pencil is next. Fuck. Does this need stitches?
- CONCLUSION B. I probably need to stop having sex with Contagion Chloe, the homeless lady who sleeps in a cardboard house under the overpass. I thought it was just kinky foreplay and smack talk when she said she was hiding a mousetrap in her lady clinic. Apparently not.
OBSERVATION 9: I gained five pounds this week.
- CONCLUSION A. Eating assuages my corona anxiety while I shelter in place from the plague. Don’t judge me! It is important to feel assuaged.
- CONCLUSION B. Hostile aliens bombard the earth with thousands of dense metallic asteroids seeking to create a “mass” extinction event. All these new asteroids increase the mass of the earth, thereby increasing its gravitational pull, thereby increasing my weight. Ha! Screw you, Susan. I told you I’m not getting fat. It’s science. W=m*g
OBSERVATION 10: Two trees fell in my yard on a windy Sunday night.
- CONCLUSION A. The old, dry trees were easily felled by the powerful wind.
- CONCLUSION B. The loud windstorm gave me the proper sound cover to chop the trees down and then into smaller logs, perfect for burning with this dry summer heat. Slash my tires? Fuck you, Gary. See what it’s like to wake up to your house burning down around you.
See how easy it is to take something hard and make it easy in application?
Whether you ascribe to nominalism, realism, conceptualism, barbarism, Taoism, or cannibalism, you must still use your brain and arrive at decisions to exist in this life.
Arguing that nominalism ultimately has resulted in modern nihilism [see discussion on Nietzsche in prior post], it is logical to conclude that life is without objective meaning, purpose, or intrinsic value. Given this existential quandary, who gives a flipping fuck about this article?
Kind of pointless. Class dismissed.
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