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Occam’s Razor

The simplest explanation is always the easiest.

Occam’s razor is a term attributed to William of Ockham (1287-1347), an English Franciscan friar, philosopher and early scientist, who took a vow of poverty, and who helped come up with a concept that is used in science today which determines that the fewest assumptions is the easiest. Scientists have changed the meaning of the term “Occam’s razor” throughout the centuries since it was first coined. Isaac Newton said of Occam’s razor that, “We are to admit no more causes of natural things than such are both true and sufficient to explain their appearances.” In other words, the simplest explanation rather than a complex explanation is always the better explanation.

To understand explanation, one has to look at the term theory, a theory is something you suppose might be a good explanation as to why for example, during the 18th and 19th centuries, fossilized bones were found throughout North America and Europe. In the early days of paleontology, people were interested in digging these bones up so they could be studied. One hypothesis example from Frauds, Myths, and Mysteries: Science and Pseudoscience in Archaeology, was that the bones were of animals that no longer existed on Earth. Another hypothesis was that the Devil had left the bones around (Feder, p. 31). A theory is an examination of factual evidence.

A theory is an idea or hunch that sometimes comes out as a gut feeling. It needs to be proven by an experiment, which makes the theory a fact. A hypothesis is an idea that the person with the theory has not proven yet. Theories are broad, containing a limited means of solving a problem. To be proven by science, something must be observable, using the simplest explanation possible. A theory cannot provide the same result for each experiment. Occam didn’t mean to make a choice between theories that made different predictions. Instead, he meant that we have to test each prediction to see if it works.

The explanation needs to be as simple as possible to even qualify as being part of what Occam’s razor means. Doctors can use Occam’s razor to figure out what illness is what. His vow of using only simple items and living in poverty might have helped him come up with Occam’s razor, which the scientific method is built on. A scientific theory must be built on observation. A scientific law is an observable event in the natural world. A hypothesis is a testable answer to a scientific question. Theories explain observations that are gathered.

Observations have to be proven by being something you can see, smell, touch, or perceive. If it is the simplest explanation, then it satisfies the qualities that Occam’s razor seeks to evoke out of a hypothesis for two different explanations. Which is correct? Scientists use Occam’s razor to prove their hypothesis if there is proof scientifically of one such theory. Some people who want to use faith to find the solution are not thinking scientifically. Science is evidence-based, using logic and needing validation from observation. Faith cannot be validated. Skepticism relies on logic to disprove belief.

Science wants to disprove hypotheses or prove them. If there is proof a hypothesis is real, then science is right but often, it is okay to be wrong. If your hypothesis is wrong, then that makes your work better because you were able to admit you were wrong in the first place. Science works to add onto the existing body of knowledge through asking questions, making observations, and in general trying to prove or disprove. Science develops technology or finds cures for diseases. Science is a continual process, which leads to new questions all the time, and if you have raised more questions, then you are doing your job as a scientist.

Works Cited

Feder, Kenneth L. Frauds, Myths and Mysteries: Science and Pseudosience in Archaelogy, third Edition, 1999. Mayfield Publishing Company, Mountain View. p. 31




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