BlogClassical Structures: Lines and Boxes
Occam’s Razor: Cutting Through the Clutter, Getting to the Point
We’ll be brief. In the 14th century, William of Occam (also Ockham), a Franciscan friar and student of logic created the Law of Briefness.
It states that with all things being equal, the easiest, shortest (and let’s not forget most rational) explanation wins.
From a man of simple means comes principles of simple reasoning.
Bob and Ray go out for dinner. Bob has oysters, Ray a salad. After dinner, Bob’s stomach is upset and he feels funky. One possible explanation is that Bob has food poisoning. Another is that Bob’s ex just stabbed a voodoo doll made in his image right in the gut. Another still is that a small demon growing inside of him is preparing to burst out through his belly button.
While you contemplate the correct answer, here are Occam’s offshoots.
When advocating independence from Great Britain, Thomas Payne entitled his publication Common Sense. Nailed it.
Part knowhow, part knowledge common sense is nothing more than good, old-fashioned reasoning. It’s that natural, instinctive feeling that it’s just right.
Like not writing your resume in crayon. Or wearing high heels to climb Everest. Or knowing you must turn on the oven to cook.
And taking a cue from Linda Richman, there are times when common sense was neither common nor sense.
Take our planet. Thanks to scientific reasoning we know the earth is round. But prior to 1492, it made no sense to anyone save a select few.
However, despite exceptions it’s a good practice to listen to the voice of reason.
Michael: I don’t know anyone who could get through the day without two or three juicy rationalizations. They’re more important than sex.
Sam: Ah, come on. Nothing’s more important than sex.
Michael: Oh yeah? Ever gone a week without a rationalization?
The Big Chill, 1983
Often our sense of what is right is skewed by our feelings and beliefs.
In other words, truth comes not from what we feel but from what we know. We rationalize by deduction (applying a well-established principle or formula to determine an answer), reason (using logic to find your answer) and innate ideas (assumptions you just know from the moment you’re born).
In the search for a rational conclusion (especially in innate ideas) we find a priori, which means that by using reason we gain knowledge without having to experience that knowledge.
Applying formulas of math, we know 1+1=2. Throw in a little logic and we know a car driving 70 mph will reach its destination sooner than a car traveling at 50 mph.
And while you may have never experienced jumping off a 100-story building, innately you know the results would not be good.
Developed by British psychologist C. Lloyd Morgan, Morgan’s Canon is the idea that animal behavior shouldn’t get the same elevated consideration as human behavior.
Animals are all about instinct, evolution and natural survival, while we are more than happy to pepper ours with bias and hidden agendas.
A horse that can open the gate isn’t looking for praise or a raise. He just gradually figured out how to do it. There is no devious motive, so stop overthinking it.
Its origin is traced back to an engineer at Lockheed. And has been used as a principal for design by the armed forces since the early 1960s.
But the acronym of Keep It Simple, Stupid most certainly has Friar Occam’s work written all over it.
Shorter is better. Frugality is smarter. And in determining the distance between two points, look real hard at that straight line.