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Has Ockham's Razor become blunt in the last 700 years ?


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7 minutes ago, joigus said:

Sorry, I'm not familiar with it.

The Subtle Knife is book 2 in Phillipp Pullman's fantasy trilogy 'His Dark Materials'

I expect your students can tell you all about it.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/His_Dark_Materials

 

The Ockham quotes came from the prolegomena (what a word!) of

Variational Principles in Dynamics and Quantum theory

By Yourgrau and Mandelstam

An interesting mixture of the Philisophy, and Mathematics of the Calculus of Variations.

 

Sleep well.

Edited by studiot
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It means Prologue.

Just one observation which I hope is relevant to the ongoing discussion: Simple principles can have arbitrarily complicated consequences. The much more "derived" theory is thus expected to b

I think it is important too see what Ockham's razor is: it is a heuristic principle, not a criterion for truth. A fine modern translation would be that if you have two theories that explain exactly th

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21 hours ago, studiot said:

Not at all. You picked out a clear cut case where the 'obvious' simple explanation is incorrect.
The actual reason is more complicated.

In the OP I am posing a discussion question, has the razor been superceded by modern science ?

My answer is obviously therefore yes, since there is at least one case where it is unreliable.

But it is a good discussion and it is my hope that when (new) members produce outlandish 'theories' and say it must be true because of Ockham's Razor this thread can be pointed to as evidence of that unreliability.

The point I'm trying to make (badly) is, first we have to understand the simple explanation, before we delve into the minutiae of the complications; so my argument is, the further science delves the farther it gets from the edge of the razor.

So if only a few can delve so deep, modern science is by definition blunting the edge of understanding, for the rest of us and so promote the very member's you seek to disavow.

22 hours ago, studiot said:

My answer is obviously therefore yes, since there is at least one case where it is unreliable.

But then I never suggested it is always reliable,

An elegant answer, is more pleasing; it doesn't have to be correct to inspire understanding.

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14 hours ago, studiot said:

The Subtle Knife is book 2 in Phillipp Pullman's fantasy trilogy 'His Dark Materials'

I expect your students can tell you all about it.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/His_Dark_Materials

 

The Ockham quotes came from the prolegomena (what a word!) of

Variational Principles in Dynamics and Quantum theory

By Yourgrau and Mandelstam

An interesting mixture of the Philisophy, and Mathematics of the Calculus of Variations.

 

Sleep well.

It means Prologue.

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Just one observation which I hope is relevant to the ongoing discussion:

Simple principles can have arbitrarily complicated consequences.

The much more "derived" theory is thus expected to be more unwieldy to Ockham-based criteria.

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39 minutes ago, joigus said:

Just one observation which I hope is relevant to the ongoing discussion:

Simple principles can have arbitrarily complicated consequences.

The much more "derived" theory is thus expected to be more unwieldy to Ockham-based criteria.

Arbitrary, is just another way to explain why we don't understand...

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1 hour ago, michel123456 said:

It means Prologue.

It was a new one on me and it means something different from a prologue which is meant to supply background information to the text, without criticism or appraisal.

Prologomena (p) and prologomenon (s) include some form of appraisal or criticism.

20 minutes ago, dimreepr said:

Arbitrary, is just another way to explain why we don't understand...

I am sure you are awae that Joigus didn't mean that, but used arbitrarily in its correct technical sense.

1 hour ago, joigus said:

Simple principles can have arbitrarily complicated consequences.

A really good one-liner there. +1

 

One thing about simple principles is that we have a natural tendency to abstract a single simple principle and then try to treat it as if it were an independent variable, whereas often the variables are not (fully) independent.

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6 minutes ago, studiot said:

I am sure you are awae that Joigus didn't mean that, but used arbitrarily in its correct technical sense.

Killing in the name of?

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17 minutes ago, joigus said:

You're becoming less and less Okhamish by the minute. Sorry for being so blunt. ;) 

Wasn't Ok a junior member of an american religous sect ?

Or did you mean the traditional scots greeting OK Hamish ?

Edited by studiot
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1 hour ago, studiot said:

Wasn't Ok a junior member of an american religous sect ?

If he was a member of an American religious sect, I'd say he couldn't have been OK. ;)

1 hour ago, studiot said:

Or did you mean the traditional scots greeting OK Hamish ?

Sorry, I meant Ockhamish. You lot use far too many consonants. Not necessary. ;)

What you can do with a "ck", you can do with a "k".

Edited by joigus
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18 hours ago, dimreepr said:

Arbitrary, is just another way to explain why we don't understand...

Well, yes, as @studiot said, that's 'arbitrary', as in,

'those arguments are too arbitrary to be compelling at all'

I meant it in a different sense, as in 'to any degree'.

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 My apologies to all, this is the last post I remember; since my friend turned up with a box of Doom bar and a bottle of JD.

21 hours ago, dimreepr said:

The point I'm trying to make (badly) is, first we have to understand the simple explanation, before we delve into the minutiae of the complications; so my argument is, the further science delves the farther it gets from the edge of the razor.

So if only a few can delve so deep, modern science is by definition blunting the edge of understanding, for the rest of us and so promote the very member's you seek to disavow.

But then I never suggested it is always reliable,

An elegant answer, is more pleasing; it doesn't have to be correct to inspire understanding.

 

1 hour ago, joigus said:

Well, yes, as @studiot said, that's 'arbitrary', as in,

'those arguments are too arbitrary to be compelling at all'

I meant it in a different sense, as in 'to any degree'.

That reminds me of an interview with Carl Sagan.

And for me, the first 8 mins of this Richard Feynman lecture.

And the question why at 15ish min.

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1 hour ago, dimreepr said:

And for me, the first 8 mins of this Richard Feynman lecture.

And the question why at 15ish min.

I remember Sidney Coleman  praising this particular moment of Feynman's. How complicated or puzzling a phenomenon is rests on what level of fundamental principles you're allowed to use.

It's as @studiot said:

21 hours ago, studiot said:

One thing about simple principles is that we have a natural tendency to abstract a single simple principle and then try to treat it as if it were an independent variable, whereas often the variables are not (fully) independent.

The contact force is considered simple by many people, while it's actually a very derived phenomenon in the theory. At some levels, certain simplifications seem to appear, but that's only because we come across emergent levels of simplicity. Same happens with thermodynamics. Internally, it's very complex, but regularities appear.

Contact forces, which Feynman mentions there, are an outstanding example.

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I think it is important too see what Ockham's razor is: it is a heuristic principle, not a criterion for truth. A fine modern translation would be that if you have two theories that explain exactly the same empirical phenomena, then the one which less assumptions is the better one. As an example: the Lorentz transformations were already derived by... eh... Lorentz, and later again by Poincaré, and again later by Einstein.

But Einstein's version comes away with only 2 assumptions (relativity and the invariance of the speed of light). 

But there is an ambiguity in the different formulations of Ockham's razor. If you take the one mostly attributed to Ockham: "Entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity" it is about what we assume about reality. If we can explain phenomena without using God, angels,  the luminiferious aether, or a preferred frame of reference, then they should not play any role in our theories. On the other side, we have such vague formulations, like "Plurality must never be posited without necessity". We could also apply, as I did above, on the number of assumptions of your theory.

An example where both versions come in conflict is the multiverse. On one side, it posits the existence of many (infinite?) separate universes which is against "Entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity"; on the other side it may have less assumptions, because we do not have to explain why the laws of nature are as we find them in our universe.

And then there is Einstein's formulation, something like "A scientific theory must be as simple as possible, but not simpler.".

So as a heuristic principle, I would translate it as: if you want to explain a phenomenon, then start with the simplest possible hypothesis; if it doesn't work out, take a more complicated hypothesis, etc. So it is a way of selecting theories you want to probe first. But in all cases, experiment and observation decide if you are right or not. If a complicated theory works empirically, and simpler ones don't, the complicated theory is preferred.

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11 minutes ago, joigus said:

I remember Sidney Coleman  praising this particular moment of Feynman's. How complicated or puzzling a phenomenon is rests on what level of fundamental principles you're allowed to use.

It's as @studiot said:

But as it pertains to the intention of the OP, one's understanding of Occam's Razor, is necessary before this thread becomes a source of understanding.

Edit: cross-posted with Eise

Edited by dimreepr
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2 hours ago, Eise said:

I think it is important too see what Ockham's razor is: it is a heuristic principle, not a criterion for truth. A fine modern translation would be that if you have two theories that explain exactly the same empirical phenomena, then the one which less assumptions is the better one.

This is almost word by word what I wanted to say in answer to,

On 2/3/2021 at 4:24 PM, Col Not Colin said:

On a minor note, how are we all identifying "the least number of assumptions"?

 

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3 hours ago, Eise said:

I think it is important too see what Ockham's razor is: it is a heuristic principle, not a criterion for truth. A fine modern translation would be that if you have two theories that explain exactly the same empirical phenomena, then the one which less assumptions is the better one. As an example: the Lorentz transformations were already derived by... eh... Lorentz, and later again by Poincaré, and again later by Einstein.

But Einstein's version comes away with only 2 assumptions (relativity and the invariance of the speed of light). 

But there is an ambiguity in the different formulations of Ockham's razor. If you take the one mostly attributed to Ockham: "Entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity" it is about what we assume about reality. If we can explain phenomena without using God, angels,  the luminiferious aether, or a preferred frame of reference, then they should not play any role in our theories. On the other side, we have such vague formulations, like "Plurality must never be posited without necessity". We could also apply, as I did above, on the number of assumptions of your theory.

An example where both versions come in conflict is the multiverse. On one side, it posits the existence of many (infinite?) separate universes which is against "Entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity"; on the other side it may have less assumptions, because we do not have to explain why the laws of nature are as we find them in our universe.

And then there is Einstein's formulation, something like "A scientific theory must be as simple as possible, but not simpler.".

So as a heuristic principle, I would translate it as: if you want to explain a phenomenon, then start with the simplest possible hypothesis; if it doesn't work out, take a more complicated hypothesis, etc. So it is a way of selecting theories you want to probe first. But in all cases, experiment and observation decide if you are right or not. If a complicated theory works empirically, and simpler ones don't, the complicated theory is preferred.

Good to see you in action again, Eise. Welcome back.
It is always a pleasure to have your clear thinking in a discussion. 
+1

and yet

You various examples assume that there should/must (since the imperative is used) be one and only one capable of dealing with a given phenomenon.

One of the principles of modern science, technology and general work practice is the principle of independent corroboration or check.
That is arriving at the same result by different routes.

Another example of differnt routes lies in the difference in the way a modern computer reaches an output versus the way a human migh do this.

The computer takes lots of small simple steps but very quicklyso that the computer can arrive at a result in milliseconds that woud take a human a whole lifetime to reach by the same method.

Further examples occur where a method we know to be theoretically unsound, arrives at the same result as the more complicated and long winded 'proper' method.

For instance the method of virtual displacements, D'Alembert's method etc.

Perhaps @Col Not Colin was getting at this sort of thing in his post  ?

Edited by studiot
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5 hours ago, Eise said:

then the one which less assumptions is the better one.

Well, not word by word. I would have probably said "then the one with fewer assumptions is the better one". ;) 

I'm a stickler for language. Good to see you again, Eise.

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8 minutes ago, joigus said:

Well, not word by word. I would have probably said "then the one with fewer assumptions is the better one". ;) 

I'm a stickler for language. Good to see you again, Eise.

Then you'll be a fossil of your time. :) 

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1 minute ago, StringJunky said:

Then you'll be a fossil of your time. :) 

It's a noble way to end your days in this planet. ;)

I can only hope for a dignified final position.

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22 hours ago, studiot said:

Good to see you in action again, Eise. Welcome back.

19 hours ago, joigus said:

Good to see you again, Eise.

Thank you for your welcome. But I do not know yet if I am 'back'. It is just that, due to corona measures, I am now working at home (since October), and for some reason it is tiring me more than working in the office. Then additionally to my work, posting meaningful postings here is just another task, instead of fun. So no promise when I chime in again. 

But be aware! I am still reading the forum nearly every day. And because this was such a clearly real philosophical theme, I had to write my little exposé.

22 hours ago, studiot said:

You various examples assume that there should/must (since the imperative is used) be one and only one capable of dealing with a given phenomenon.

No, not necessarily. And as a a heuristic principle, not a methodological one, it is not the 'way to truth'. And it is also not very precise: how does one count assumptions, or entities involved in your scientific theories. Ockhams razor is helpful, but not decisive for the soundness of a scientific theory.

22 hours ago, studiot said:

One of the principles of modern science, technology and general work practice is the principle of independent corroboration or check.
That is arriving at the same result by different routes.

I think one should not use Ockhams razor outside a scientific context. (Weren't you an engineer?) So I cannot subscript to your position:

22 hours ago, studiot said:

Another example of differnt routes lies in the difference in the way a modern computer reaches an output versus the way a human migh do this.

You do not compare scientific theories here.

And different ways to tackle a practical scientific target, are perfectly fine. Classical mechanics is a great example. It doesn't matter for the outcome if you use the laws of Newton directly, or use the Lagrangian, or whatever. In the end, it is already proven that they are empirically, even mathematically, equivalent. So in the end, both approaches are belong to the same theory. Just pick the method that leads you to the conclusion in the easiest way.

20 hours ago, joigus said:

I would have probably said "then the one with fewer assumptions is the better one". ;) 

That sounds nicer, yes. I also hope it means exactly the same. You can always correct my English, in the end, it is not my mother tongue. And speaking the noblest of English on my dying bed sounds a a nice idea! 

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On 2/5/2021 at 12:43 PM, joigus said:

I remember Sidney Coleman  praising this particular moment of Feynman's. How complicated or puzzling a phenomenon is rests on what level of fundamental principles you're allowed to use.

It seems to me his message was, at what point are you satisfied with my answer; rather than your assumption of what the answer should be...

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