Occam’s Razor: A Quick Tool for Assisting Thought

This is actually a more controversial notion that one might think. That’s why I’m putting it here as well.

Prometheus Unbound

Occam’s razor gets its name from the medieval theologian William of Occam, who wrote in the 14th century that “No more things should be presumed to exist than are absolutely necessary.” Put another way, the simplest conclusion is usually best. That’s Occam’s razor. It means shaving off unnecessary or dubious premises and seeing what remains. It’s about being cautious—indeed, conservative—when reaching a conclusion.

A conclusion is best—most likely to be correct—when it’s encumbered by the fewest premises, and those premises should link up with the conclusion in a way that feels natural and unstrained.

For example, if you saw a light pass quickly overhead through the night sky, Occam’s razor suggests that you would be wise to attribute it to a meteor before, say, an alien spacecraft from a distant galaxy. Though the alien spacecraft theory is logically possible, it’s burdened by numerous questionable premises (such as that spacefaring…

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