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Occam's razor

By Robert T. Smith
web posted August 30, 2013

In general, it is good practice and quite often the case that the simplest explanation is the correct explanation.  The namesake for this principle comes from the philosopher, theologian, Franciscan Friar William of Ockham…Occam's razor.  From various sources, Occam's razor is a principle of parsimony or frugality used in logic and problem-solving.   It states that among competing hypotheses, the hypothesis with the fewest assumptions should be selected. 

In so many facets of our society and government we have now become inundated by self-avowed deep thinkers, academics, a philosopher king, those who view themselves as the progressives of our day, here to save us from our simple selves.  All issues are far too complicated to be solved individually and simply, it is only through their sophistication and unique powers of thought that we may have any hope for the future.  Instead, perhaps Occam's razor can be appropriately applied to many of our current issues.

A particular example is the theory of man-induced global warming.  Our earth has gone through many periods of naturally occurring global warming and cooling, periods of ice ages, intermediate periods, and warming.  All of these events are etched into the earth's crust and are more recently, in earth age, a part of man's written history.  We know the Vikings colonized and established agriculture in Greenland during the Medieval Warm Period, and we know of the dark days of a frozen Thames River in the UK during the Little Ice Age.  Occam's razor would correctly inform us of natural climate change. 

The following graph depicts the Medieval Warm Period transitioning to the Little Ice Age [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 1990, Figure 7.1(c)].  This graph is an established, simplest explanation of this relatively recent (earth age) global temperature trend.  Subsequently, a multitude of proxy data and then statistical manipulation transitioned the simple understanding into the infamous hockey stick theory of global temperatures.  The hockey stick theory suggests the steady-state temperatures of the earth (the hockey stick handle) were triggered dramatically upward (the blade of the hockey stick) by man's activity beginning during the 1900's….no Medieval Warm Period bump or Little Ice Age trough, as examples.  

The improbability of flattening even the relatively recent history of the Medieval Warm Period and Little Ice Age with proxy data and statistics speaks to the essence of Occam's razor.  The proxy data relied upon as the basis for the statistical assessment themselves have a multitude of variability, unknowns, and extraneous considerations.  The use of statistics to defend a hypothesis is notoriously subjective.  As quoted from Mark Twain, there are three types of lies:  "lies, damn lies and statistics."    The principle of Occam's razor should be relied upon in this instance, certainly before any dramatic changes in our laws and economy would be considered to respond to the relatively new allegations of man-induced global warming.

In general consideration, many times Occam's razor points to the simple truth.  Consider these example hypotheses related to the issues of the day:

Less government means more individual freedom;

Equal opportunity does not guarantee an equal outcome;

Only law abiding citizens will register their guns or obey gun-free zones;

Fewer controls and impediments, rules and regulatory restrictions placed on the economy and businesses will stimulate economic activity;

Each individual knows best how to live their own life;

There is a moral order at the core of humanity, an empirical right and a wrong;

Shared traditions, customs, and beliefs are the cornerstone of an organized society, destroying these traditions, customs and beliefs creates societal chaos;

Human life begins when 23 chromosomes run into 23 chromosomes; ad infinitum.

Best of all, maybe, just maybe the simple hypothesis that all men are created equal, endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights…Occam's razor. ESR

Robert T. Smith is an environmental scientist who spends his days enjoying life and the pursuit of happiness with his family.  He confesses to cling to his liberty, guns and religion, with antipathy toward the arrogant ruling elites throughout the country.





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