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Emily Dickinson #1559
Tried always and Condemned by thee 28%
Permit me this reprieve 14%
That dying I may earn the look 14%
For which I cease to live-- 0%
c. 1882/1945 0%

Votes: 7

 Win fabulous /. Moderator Points in this exciting contest!

 Author:  Topic:  Posted:
Jan 20, 2002
Are you sick and tired of suffering fools who think they know what they're talking about? Us too.

Now's your chance to suffer a little less. Do YOU know the correct definition of Ockham's Razor? Or Occam, if you like. But do you? If you know, you can win our fabulous contest!

To enter, merely reply here with your best explanation of what Occam's Razor means, and the post with the highest average rating will be awarded 5, yes FIVE, fabulous Slashdot moderator points.

Read on for details.


More diaries by elenchos
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I don't know enough history to write it, but...
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As I'm sure you can imagine...
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Who knew?
Paging Dr. Science, paging Dr. Science...
Damn them.
Thanks to the noble Pr0n K1ng for donating our valuable prize for this exciting contest. This kind of selflessness is an example to all of true humanity and humble devotion to Art and the Ideal Forms. The Way, if you will.

Anyway, the contest runs for 24 hours. At the end of that time, the post with the highest rating will be judged the winner, and the winner may post links to which Slashdot comments she or he wants modded and in what way. I don't know exactly how Slashdot points are put to use, but however it is done, you get to say and the noble Pr0n K1ng will do it.

Now of course the long-standing policy against plagairism is still in effect. So if you just go copy something you looked up and paste that, it will not be counted, and will in fact just get deleted. So do some research, but be original and insightful, and give proper attribution for your sources.

There. So get to it: What is Ockham's Razor? What is it really?


I just love /. moderator points! (1.50 / 2) (#1)
by eMan on Sun Jan 20th, 2002 at 10:38:34 PM PST
Ockham's razor states that, given the choice between a simple and a complicated explanation for an obsereved phenomenon, it's better to pick the simpler. Your theory is going to be overthrown eventually anyway, so you might as well make everyone's life easier until then.

Now please mock me. This is going to be a fun thread!

Given the choice? (none / 0) (#2)
by elenchos on Sun Jan 20th, 2002 at 11:22:48 PM PST
So how are we given this choice?

If I explain the presence of my beer in front of me as having happened as a result of the Beer God's benevolent will, or as a result of my having gone and purchased it with money from a store that ordered it from some place I have never seen (Ireland), is this such a "choice"?

The Beer God seems simpler than the whole importaion form this "Ireland" place. So am I "given" this choice? Why doesn't this Ockham make us believe all kinds of simple things?

I do, I do, I do
--Bikini Kill

_ (3.33 / 3) (#3)
by Anonymous Reader on Mon Jan 21st, 2002 at 01:20:37 AM PST
The parent comment neglected to mention that in order to apply Occam's Razor, it is important that the two explanations be equally plausible. In your case, the "Beer God" explanation is, although simpler, far less plausible and therefore Occam's Razor cannot (or should not) be applied.

Valid point, but (3.00 / 2) (#12)
by eMan on Mon Jan 21st, 2002 at 07:31:35 AM PST
The beer god theory can be refuted by experimental evidence. Unless you are an attractive female, you will find that there is a positive correlation between beer appearing in front of you and money leaving your wallet. You could explain this and other phenomena by adding more and more esoteric properties to the way the beer god works, but eventually the beer god will become such a complicated entity that even Ireland will seem like a simpler, thus more plausible explanation.

Now, if we start applying Ockham's razor in the case of Science vs. God, we end up with an interesting dilemma, because both explanations are so impossibly complicated, self-contradictory and unfocused that choosing becomes impossible. That's why Occam's razor is a really crappy method to use for anything important.

Now hand over those points, the "first slashdot troll post investigation" needs more modding.

Ockham's razor in the original Latin: (2.00 / 2) (#5)
by cp on Mon Jan 21st, 2002 at 01:52:18 AM PST
Nolite cacare in silvis praeter necessitatem.

It's killjoy season (3.66 / 3) (#6)
by Robert Reginald Rodriguez on Mon Jan 21st, 2002 at 01:52:50 AM PST
And I'm feeling pretty annoying today. Ockham's original statement didn't include words like "entities" or "multiply". At least, according to Bertrand Russell, it didn't. Of course, Bert wasn't actually there, and he is, unlike the pope, not infallible. In English, Occam's razor as stated by Ockham, according to Russell was, "It is vain to do with more what can be done with fewer".

It seems we have a winner! (none / 0) (#19)
by elenchos on Mon Jan 21st, 2002 at 11:13:24 PM PST
With an amazing score of 3.66 as of this writing. Congradulations Robert Reginald Rodriguez.

Well. I guess you should link to your five slashdot comments with instructions on how you want them moderated, and I shall contact Pr0n K1ng.

Well, thanks for playing everyone. There's some Kuro5hin moderator points for each of you as you leave!

I do, I do, I do
--Bikini Kill

What kind of crack are the moderators smoking? (5.00 / 1) (#20)
by Robert Reginald Rodriguez on Tue Jan 22nd, 2002 at 12:59:44 AM PST
That was the single most embarrassing thing I've said on a weblog, ever, to the best of my recollection. At least using this account. Except for the time I posted as wymynyst without logging out.

Now for the moderation:

I don't know if that guy's trolling or what, but his name is dumb. -1 troll

Insightful my ass, jesterzog. -1 overrated

I don't know if this guy really is fat, but it's best to be safe, I guess. -1 overrated.

I tried to read this post three times, and fell asleep before I got to the second paragraph. -1 troll.

I tried to find a post that was worth modding up, but I got bored and gave up. This one's probably a goatsex link. +1 underrated.

Ockham's Razor? How dreary. (3.00 / 4) (#7)
by RobotSlave on Mon Jan 21st, 2002 at 03:13:19 AM PST

"Ockham's Razor" is a phrase. It describes a world-view that was around long before a particular William of undistinguished parenthood was born in the town of Ockham. The phrase itself is useful today only as an identifying hallmark of the poorly educated bourgeois.

But first, a bit of background.

"William of Ockham" was of such low birth that he had no surname; he was known in later life only by the town in in which he was born. It's quite likely he was a bastard.

Further evidence of his low birth can be found in the theological (and somewhat political) tenet that he championed throughout his life: the moral superiority of absolute poverty. This misguided notion, together with his stubborn nature, led to his excommunication, together with a couple of his troublesome Franciscan bretheren.

In his futile railings against Vatican authority (often in the person of John XXII), William frequently invoked a principle held dear to many a mediæval peasant: the principle of "parsimony."

This tenet is still alive today, and it is still favored mainly by the uneducated and the poorly educated. The ignorant classes, the proletariat mass of burger-flippers, tech-supporters, and "systems administrators," generally refer to this shallow philosophical outlook with an appropriately vulgar phrase: "keep it simple, stupid." The resultant acronym is often used as shorthand by the lazy.

The truly elite, of course, are often amused by the invocation of William, because it is so often deployed by the bourgeois in defense of an idea that the man from Ockham worked hard to discredit, to wit: the idea that "science" has any existence outside of the human imagination. In point of fact, William's most significant contibution to philosophy was the idea of of "notionalism," a direct antecedent of modern epistemology. It is quite droll, you see?

This sort of learned irony, of course, is entirely opaque to the bourgeousie. They, the poorly educated, have learned that the phrase "keep it simple, stupid" is laughable in a world that is obviously complicated, but they cling to the notion nonetheless, as they do not have the education necessary to address complexity. What their pseudo-education does provide, however, is fancy phrase for their childish philosophical outlook. The bourgeois can not be bothered to remember a word like "parsimony," and indeed why should they, when there is a phrase that contains the added bonus of an implicit appeal to authority: to wit, "Occam's Razor?"

The elite will appreciate the further irony in the the fact that that the phrase was likely coined by William's detractors, as a "razor," at the time, was a tool only of highwaymen, barbers, and cutpurses, and the implement was known far more for drawing blood than drawing fine distinctions.

In sum, the phrase "Occam's Razor" is hallmark of the poorly educated. If you see it being deployed in earnest, without knowing allusions to its historical predecessor, "parsimony," or its most vulgar modern variant, "KISS," or to its bloody mediæval connotations, then you can be sure that you are witnessing the efforts of the poorly educated bourgeois, attempting to preserve cherished simplicity through an implicit appeal to authority.

I offer the forgoing only as a cautionary essay; I suspect that even if I knew what they were, I would have no interest in these "Five Slashdot Moderation Points" that you offer as compensation for adequate explanation. Perhaps they can be donated to some sort of charity, if it comes to that.

© 2002, RobotSlave. You may not reproduce this material, in whole or in part, without written permission of the owner.

Ockham's Razor Not Invented By Ockham (1.50 / 2) (#13)
by Richard C Suquer on Mon Jan 21st, 2002 at 03:30:17 PM PST
I urge you to find any place in Ockham's works where the "Razor" is stated. You will find it nowhere. Because he stole it! Credit for Ockham's Razor actually goes to Karl Marx.

Don't believe me? Look how long Marx's beard is. After William stole the razor Marx could no longer shave!

Revolution from Below! GPL the Constitution!

Occam's Razor... Of Doom (1.00 / 1) (#8)
by Anonymous Reader on Mon Jan 21st, 2002 at 03:16:21 AM PST
Occam's Razor is used to amputate any trace of mysticism, of spirituality, of anything hinting at awe or wonder, from the explanation of an event, leaving only dumb, brute fact.<p>It is Jack the Ripper's flashing blade, slicing the entrails out of the soft, nubile body of human culture.

Simple enough (1.33 / 3) (#9)
by Anonymous Reader on Mon Jan 21st, 2002 at 04:02:04 AM PST
Occam is a popular transputer programming language that allows skillful programmers to exploit the fundamental parallelism of certain algorithms. Occam's Razor must therefore be some sort of disjunctive operator in the language, perhaps the split operator.

You can keep the mod points, by the way, unless you're bundling them with cheap $3 crack. -- because it isn't

Occam's razor is (3.25 / 4) (#10)
by pyramid termite on Mon Jan 21st, 2002 at 05:53:17 AM PST
... the simplest way to cut short an argument when one doesn't want to refute it. Oh, should I win, Mr. Pr0n K1ng, there's a certain post with more than 500 moderations that needs moderating up some more. I'm sure you know what I mean. Thanks.
He who hides his madman, dies voiceless - Henri Michaux

Ockham Smockham (2.00 / 2) (#11)
by pleonast on Mon Jan 21st, 2002 at 06:06:48 AM PST
First, I must state my distress that an organ as esteemed as Adequate should choose to present such a topic for definition and debate. Introducing the unwashed to a figure such a William of Ockham, in however tangential a fashion, is a dangerous and wholly irresponsible act given his record as a subversive. Need I do more than remind people that Ockham actually suggested that women should be considered members of the Church, or that the Pope is not infallible? Seditious stuff, indeed.

My other concerns, and I believe they are valid, are that this competition will degenerate into either a widdlesome Latinbang for niminypiminy pedants, or a widdlesome definitionbang for fools. The former is predictable, the latter regrettable.

Let me continue with the statement that nobody knows the correct definition or form of what has come to be known as Ockham's razor. Many medieval scholars posited laws of economy before Bill Ockham (including Duns Scotus and Durand de Saint-Pourçain), and the general principle only became eponymous as Bill used forms of it so frequently. However, we do know that he wrote:

"Pluralitas non est ponenda sine necessitas" (plurality shouldn't be posited without necessity).

The above may, and frequently is, rewritten as "If two theories explain the facts then the simpler is to be preferred."

However, in day-to-day use this is often, erroneously, rewritten again as "When faced with a complex problem, choose the simplest solution."

The problem is that when applied outside of a definable system it is complete, utter and unmitigated balderdash. In order for the Razor to make any sense it must be applied in a logical fashion to a definable system. Furthermore, I find that usually individually, and always en-masse, humans outside of science are incapable of making rational judgements of this nature, and yet the Razor and its bastard child are applied every day in situations ranging from explaining the apparent increase in paedophilia (blame the Internet) to dealing with al-Quieda (bomb zem).

I would like to suggest that a debate be started on "Apparently simple problems always have complex solutions. Discuss."

I have to go. It's time to feed my cat, called Schroedinger, who I keep in a box with a phial of arsenic and a radioactive source.


So, what is it, then? (none / 0) (#15)
by RobotSlave on Mon Jan 21st, 2002 at 06:41:10 PM PST
You've told us all what Occam's Razor is not useful for, but you haven't done much to define it, have you? Sure, you quoted some stuff that William of Ockham wrote (with no mention of razors), but does that help us understand "Occam's Razor?" What is it? How does it relate to that stuff you quoted?

I understand your objection to quibbling over definitions, but the whole point of the contest is to submit a definition, so it can be judged, see? I won't argue with your definition, once you provide one, but do you think you could at least cough one up, so as to be eligible for the mysterious prize?

Also, the joke about your cat was lame.

© 2002, RobotSlave. You may not reproduce this material, in whole or in part, without written permission of the owner.

Of course it was lame (none / 0) (#22)
by pleonast on Tue Jan 22nd, 2002 at 12:53:09 PM PST
The point of my inadequate post was that Ockham's Razor could, in the context of 13/14th century thinking, be adequately applied as the thinkers of that period didn't have enough reference points to go by.

Successive generations (and by that I mean scientific generations) that have refined observed phenonema by a series of ever finer sieves have, to my mind, proved that the simplistic model of choosing the simpler of two explanations is not adequate. The very process of sieving in the context of a body of knowledge is enough to eliminate unworkable explanations of observed phenonema.

The more we observe and build our model of a system, the finer the sieve that any new theory has to pass through. Given this, what logical rule can state that the simpler of two theories should be given as 'fact'? If both theories equally explain the observed phenonema then both MUST be explored and tested. It is not given that the simpler must be true, only the verifiable must be given as true.

It is for this reason that I object to the Razor as it arbitrarily excludes any but the simplest explanations of a problem. It was fine for Medieval Europe, which had a limited body of knowledge, and so needed, if by nothing else than by heated argument between naieve scientists and philosphers, to restrict the number of extant crackpot theories.

My real argument against the Razor in the context of 'modern science' is that, given the body of knowledge we currently have in measurable areas, the range of _possible_ solutions are all worthy of exploration.

Of course all the above assumes a measurable system, which of course excludes all 'sciences' such as sociology and economics - both of which are to the chagrin of my partner.

Yes, you are right, my cat joke was lame. My only excuses are that a) it was intentional given what I though of the competition and b) my cat really is could Scroedinger (call me a tosser if you like).


If I win... (2.33 / 3) (#14)
by because it isnt on Mon Jan 21st, 2002 at 05:54:34 PM PST
I will rate comments thus: And Ockham's Razor?

Ockham's Razor is giving these windbags the ratings they deserve. -- because it isn't

What's wrong? (none / 0) (#16)
by RobotSlave on Mon Jan 21st, 2002 at 08:28:16 PM PST
Why so grumpy? Is your music-stealing software project not taking off quite as you might have hoped?

Or do us "windbags" make you feel a little inadequate with all of our complicated thinking and difficult irony?

Don't let yourself feel completely outmatched. I'm sure we're nowhere near as good at making music on an Amiga as you are.

© 2002, RobotSlave. You may not reproduce this material, in whole or in part, without written permission of the owner.

Oh. You again. (none / 0) (#17)
by because it isnt on Mon Jan 21st, 2002 at 09:06:13 PM PST
Why so grumpy?

I thought you weren't talking to me any more. Unfortunately, it seems you are. Haven't you got a last word to get -- you know, somewhere else?

Or do us "windbags"

Which ones? The ones on the controversial site, the other site or the other other site? I assume this windbag collective includes you. Which other windbags are you referring to?

Have these windbags visited my public web-site like good little stalkers? Glad you liked it. -- because it isn't

Oh, so that was you anonymously pimping Denmark? (none / 0) (#18)
by RobotSlave on Mon Jan 21st, 2002 at 10:04:07 PM PST
Never did answer the question, did you?

Here's a free clue: If you don't want people to learn stuff about you, then don't put it on a publicly accessible web page. Especially when it's so painfully embarrassing.

I have a question for you. If you hate the adequacy so much, why are you here? It's because you know this is where the cool people are, isn't it? And you want to feel better than them?

Or maybe you fancy yourself some sort of super-hero, rescuing the innocents before they can be decieved and laid low by the nasty, dangerous denizens of the adequacy? Maybe one of those innocents will turn out to be a nice young local woman, who will want to meet you and thank you for your infinite gallantry in the tireless pursuit of Internet Justice?

Oh, and you might want to turn off that illegal hacker stuff on your web page. It's annoying, and it might easily land you in Jail. Or Gaol, if you prefer.

© 2002, RobotSlave. You may not reproduce this material, in whole or in part, without written permission of the owner.

Offtopic (none / 0) (#21)
by because it isnt on Tue Jan 22nd, 2002 at 02:02:16 AM PST
Never did answer the question, did you?

What? The exotic team project is a long-term goal. Work is ongoing on the decruncher, ripper and converter parts. Just because you clearly think it's silly, doesn't mean that it is to everyone else. However, unless you really want to discuss Amiga mod formats and compression here on Adequacy, then leave it out of the discussion, because I really could go on and on about it for hours. I mean, have you seen this? It's an absolutely fantastic resource.

I have a question for you. If you hate the adequacy so much, why are you here?

Mu. Where did you get the idea that I hate Adequacy? Oh, I see - because I've written an essay about it that's fair handed and not obsequiously brown-nosing, I must hate it, right? If you really want a meta discussion, you have my email address.

In the meantime, please respect the wishes of the editors, and refrain from posting links to my essay on, or links to my web-site (where it's clearly visible on the sidebar) on Adequacy itself. In the next few days, I'll put up NAWL's lovely "Windows Luzer" cartoon episode 1. You can link to that all you want, it'll be "safe".

illegal hacker stuff
land you in Jail. Or Gaol

Oh you crack me up. -- because it isn't


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