Occam’s Principle Analysis

Amos Nur quotes F. Heylighen’s definition of Occam’s Principle as the practice of applying only the minimum amount of assumptions when considering possibilities. This idea is called the principle of parsimony. Ultimately it suggests that out of a given set of models for the occurrence of a phenomenon a person should choose the simplest one to draw a final conclusion. According to Nur, this principle is most commonly applied to scientific study to draw hypothesis.  

While I agree that this principle may narrow down possibilities when trying to make a decision or draw a hypothesis, I also feel that it could neglect some of the key facts needed to make decisions. An example of this can be found in the introduction of Nur’s Apocalypse when he is discussing earthquakes and their relationship to the fall of civilization. “Some researchers deny that earthquakes, and, by analogy, other sudden natural events, may have played a bigger role in shaping history, simply because these sudden occurrences are not man-made.” The way that I interpreted this idea is that researchers have concluded that since most modern, sudden occurrences are made by man, earthquakes, which are not man made, could not have played that big of a role in the shaping of history.

I would argue that by drawing an assumption based on the present when reflecting on past activities can be dangerous because it does not account for other factors that may not be applicable to the time period. An example of this would be drawing the conclusion that if airport security had been more strict leading up to 9/11, the threat of terrorism would have been diminished. The flaw in this argument relating to Occam’s Principle is that it fails to acknowledge the fact that there was no need for tight security prior to this event. In today’s time we would question why there was no protocol or air marshals in place to combat this attack, however terrorism was not an imminent threat to the U.S. in 2001.

In addition, using Occam’s principle to eliminate more complex possibilities only allows for one to consider the most simple of possibilities, which does not necessarily mean the most accurate. Although earthquakes are not man made, that does not mean that they are not responsible for the extreme dynamics in history. The results of earthquakes could in fact lead to the beginning or end of civilization and therefore could have played a huge role in the shaping of history.

While it is possible that I am unclear on all of the details of the way that Occam’s Principle is typically used to draw scientific hypothesis, using Nur’s article to understand the Principle only made me wary of the factuality of eliminating complex choices in situations.



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