Chapter 17

Occam's Razor Theory

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William was a philosopher and theologian from Ockham, England. Ockham is near Guildford, southwest of London. Medieval spelling was inconsistent and while the village is now named "Ockha", the alternative spelling "Occam" is frequently used associated with William.

William is credited with making the statement which can be stated in modern terms as "if two theories explain the facts equally well, then the simpler theory is to be preferred.'' This principle is widely known as "Occam's Razor."

What Ockham actually said was "plurality shouldn't be posited without necessity."

The "Razor" cuts theories down to those with sufficient reason.  I would say, sufficient reason means that:

The proposition should have self-evidence, that is we have to accept facts forced upon us that are the most probable.  Thus we must look for empirical experience wherever we can.  We must take measurements.  We must use logical deduction and induction.  We must come from facts to build a general theory, and come from the general theory to supportive facts and measurements. 

In plain English, Ockham's Razor can be stated as "You must never fail to adopt the simplest idea as your working hypothesis. If necessity demands, you can dump it later when you have more data, but only because it is no longer the simplest idea."  If we fail to do so, entities are multiplied beyond necessity and this leads to complications and error. 

While Ockham's razor works well with science, in religion and personal life, we cannot always say that we have to simplify ever little thing.  Life would be boring if we did.

Over-simplification (parsimony) and extreme economy in reasoning can produce theories that are soulless, and wicked.  Communists might say "measure all things in terms of money or a scientist might say "measure all things in terms of numbers first." 

Happiness is not based on money or numbers, but on many things including human relations, changes in wealth, self worth and so on.

However, Ockham's Razor theory can come to the rescue in simple situations. We could use it to point out that simplest model is more likely to be correct when we are working with unusual phenomenon. For example, a circle of matted grass could be made by a flying saucer, or by someone using a board to push down the grass to form the circle. The flying saucer model is very complex, and there are not very many facts to support it. Using Ockham's theory, the simple model wins.

Explanations often need to be complex. For example, changing a curved line on a computer by dragging a mouse seems simple enough, but it requires linear algebra and the study of matrixes to understand it. Further, just to see and understand a curved line change as we walk by in 3D makes drawing lines look simple.

The brain makes almost all our functions seem simple. Yet it is constantly performing extremely complex operations. Understand every complex thought anyone has ever had, must be supported by the brain.

Use revelation because it was included in the more complex Ockham Razor theory, we can now add to the brain functions, the light of "inner vision" from spiritual forces. ("inner vision" is explained in a Baha'i Book: Closer than Your Life-Vein by Henry A. Weil).

Truth Includes the Observer

Truth often depends both what is being watched and also the watcher. For example, a person wearing polarizing sunglasses sees a different world than one who is not wearing the eyeglasses. For example, wearing sunglasses, we see rainbows in car windows, the sky looks bluer in certain directions, we can see beyond reflections in the surface of a pond.

Of an alien, equipped with eyes that used different wavelengths for observation, looked at a window, the window may appear oblique in colors we never see.

At the sub-microscopic level, using light to see is like shooting bullets and sensing how they ricochet. Photons of light can hit atomic particles and change their energy level and acceleration.

Heisenberg's uncertainty principle (1927) and later quantum theory made it clear that at the sub-microscopic level, physical events are not full determinate and are predictable only statistically in terms of probabilities.

The observer and observed are part of the same system. This is true if we change the observer (different instruments or different eyes) or if observation effects the observed. This is a far more common event than most people realize. For example, the face of someone that loves you, will look more attractive than the face of someone who does not love you.

Epistemology (investigation of truth) is the problem of philosophy. There are so many theories that one can be quickly confused.

Data, Data Collections and Models

We might assume that all truth is grounded in facts. An isolated bit of data such as "air54" has no meaning until it is linked with more data. It is plain to see that data becomes significant only when it is grouped and related to other data. Isolated facts provide little truth by themselves, but when they are organized, they can be very powerful. One can search through large data bases using techniques such as data mining.

One way we can picture truth is by visualizing facts as linked by strings. For example, in your mind's eye you see a ball with a string stretching to roundness and another string that links roundness to shapes and another that links shapes to objects.

Facts can be stored as data. In many computer programs, data is stored in fields; fields are grouped in records; records are placed in folders.


A collection of related data that has meaning we can term as a model. A model can be used as a source of knowledge. For example, a medical model of a disease allows the identification of an illness and its treatment.

We can build models of the world in a computer. For example, complex integrated circuits are built as models in a computer and tested so well that millions of transistors function correctly when they produced in the physical world.

Beliefs are Models Within Our Minds

All our beliefs and everything we understand are made up models that are recalled from our memories as we need them. The past, the present and the future are models, simulations of our inner and outer worlds.

Groups of models form abstractions. Abstractions are invisible groupings of ideas that are found in everyday life such as a particular religion or scientific point of view.

Many of the older religions mix good and bad data together to form mixed models. People joining the religion see the good data, people leaving the religion see the bad data. The data is fuzzy, and not defined. Using confused, good and bad data, people write books trying to explain how all the pieces fit together. These people are called apologists. The books take on a life of there own and become objects for more books. If one worships words and books, the data, confused, good or bad is always true by definition and not by experiment.

For example, Georg Hegel (1770-1831) tries to explain what is real and what is not. Note how complex things become as he makes words real. (This next paragraph I did not write--it is an example of bad writing.)

"Being and Naught is, in the first place, only implicit, and not yet actually made: they only ought to be distinguished. A distinction, of course, implies two things, and that one of them possesses an attribute which is not found in the other. Being, however, is an absolute absence of attributes, and so is Nought. Hence, the distinction between the two is only mean to be; it is quite a nominal distinction, which is at the same time no distinction.... Nothing, if it is thus immediate and equal to itself, is also conversely the same as Being is... In Being we have Nothing, and in Nothing Being... In Becoming the Being which is one with Nothing, and the Nothing which is one with Being, are only vanishing factors; the are and they are not ." From Reality and the Mind by Celestine Bittle (1936).

Where does an author get his ideas, his facts? Often from other books. Encyclopedia are famous for this. Where do these reference books get there facts? Probably from other books. There is little original source material in your library or bookstore.


Like clutter in our spare rooms, many of us believe in too many things. There is so much mental stuff to get out of our way, so we can grow. To be blunt--we must give up our options and start over. It is a matter of belief suspension. We must create doubt, go into temporary abatement so we can learn.

A full glass will not hold more water. In creating a "tabula rasa" (blank slate) mind, we can reconsider everything. Where did all these old beliefs come from and why have I never let them go?

Free Will

It is said we are a product of our environment and heredity. Are we are predestined to live a certain life? No, because we are also a products of randomness. The brain produces noise, just like any other electrical-chemical process. Brain noise is picked up by brain cells and passed on until it is filtered, usually very quickly, by the brain. Once in a rare moment, the noise produces a word, an idea, sound or other brain event. A few of these events become turning points in our lives. It just takes the right noise to trigger the right brain cell and something new and wonderful is presented to our conscious mind.

We can see that even someone who knows everything about us could not predict what we might think or do. A bit of brain noise and we are doing our own thing. There is no predestination, and we are truly unique souls.

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Copyright 2005 - 2007 by George Norwood
Version 6.0.