Thursday, March 17, 2016

Occam's razor

From Wikipedia:

Occam's razor (also written as Ockham's razor, and lex parsimoniae in Latin, which means law of parsimony) is a problem-solving principle attributed to William of Ockham (c. 1287–1347), who was an English Franciscan friar and scholastic philosopher and theologian. The principle can be interpreted as stating Among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected.

The application of the principle can be used to shift the burden of proof in a discussion. However, Alan Baker, who suggests this in the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, is careful to point out that his suggestion should not be taken generally, but only as it applies in a particular context, that is: philosophers who argue in opposition to metaphysical theories that involve any kind of probably "superfluous ontological apparatus."[a]

Baker then notes that principles, including Occam's razor, are often expressed in a way that is unclear regarding which facet of "simplicity"—parsimony or elegance—the principle refers to, and that in a hypothetical formulation the facets of simplicity may work in different directions: a simpler description may refer to a more complex hypothesis, and a more complex description may refer to a simpler hypothesis.[b]

Solomonoff's theory of inductive inference is a mathematically formalised Occam's razor:[2][3][4][5][6][7] shorter computable theories have more weight when calculating the probability of the next observation, using all computable theories that perfectly describe previous observations.

In science, Occam's razor is used as a heuristic technique (discovery tool) to guide scientists in the development of theoretical models, rather than as an arbiter between published models.[8][9] In the scientific method, Occam's razor is not considered an irrefutable principle of logic or a scientific result; the preference for simplicity in the scientific method is based on the falsifiability criterion. For each accepted explanation of a phenomenon, there may be an extremely large, perhaps even incomprehensible, number of possible and more complex alternatives, because one can always burden failing explanations with ad hoc hypotheses to prevent them from being falsified; therefore, simpler theories are preferable to more complex ones because they are more testable