Occam's Razor & The Duck



Have you ever had your head swimming in endless possibilities? Have you ever (over-) analysed something to within an inch of its life, and given yourself a headache in the process? Yep, me too! It's so easy to run ourselves around in circles, pondering every variable and “what if”. Occam's Razor however can save us, if we recall it when next mentally swimming in pea soup.


The Occam's Razor principle is widely attributed to a Franciscan friar, William of Ockham (1288-1348), which states: “Entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily”. This principle was later expanded upon – by Sir Issac Newton amongst others, to become: “If you have two theories which both explain the observed facts, then you should use the simplest until more evidence comes along”. As this principle is also regarded as the Law of Parsimony, we should really pare it all the way down to: “Keep it simple”.


As a species we really do love a bit of sensationalism, a little hyperbolical something – often – to heighten our experiences. I acknowledge this is a sweeping generalisation, but our attention spans have evolved into something which craves the shiny, new and novel, which has be instantly gratified. We process so much information now, at such a high absorption rate, that we almost always feel stimulated. We often mistrust simplicity as too good to be true. We can get ourselves caught up in unnecessarily manufactured webs of illusion, exaggeration, and even falsehoods. How about we cut out the noise, waffle and pontificating opinions and just get down to facts, deal only in facts; aspects in which we have actual evidence of merit? I'm not discussing religion or faith based initiatives here, just our interpersonal relationships with each other.


Rather than assuming, and potentially whipping up hysteria and fear of pseudo risk; ask, research and learn the facts. If you want to be understood, communicate and express yourself as simply and clearly as possible. Assumptions only add layers of misinformation, mistrust and hostility. Entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily. Always look for the most plausible and least convoluted explanation, because it's the most likely scenario; at least until more information is forthcoming.


Whilst we might love an intricately folded and complex set of circumstances to keep us entertained and stimulated, in reality it can be harmful and time wasting, producing little of positive value. Best leave the melodrama in the soap operas, I say.


When events conspire to bemuse or annoy, look for the simplest explanation and refrain from adding layers of supposition, suspicion, bias, envy, anger or even love and rose-tinted lenses – just look for the common sense, keep it simple and resist the herd or mob mentality.


Remember, if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck – it's a duck!

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