Is Occam’s Razor science ? January 21, 2007Posted by dorigo in Blogroll, physics, science.
Occam’s razor is not science. The scientific method does not consist of looking at the world, constructing multiple theories which might explain the observed facts, and then choosing the simplest.
Occam’s razor is meta-science at best, and not a decisive argument in any way. Sometimes, the more complicated theory is the right one.
Well, well, well, while I usually concur with Chad’s opinions, I am not sure I agree with him on this one. Occam’s razor does not consist in constructing multiple theories, but rather to advise succintness in construction of a scientific theory. It is often quoted as a lex parsimoniae:
“entia non sum multiplicanda praeter necessitatem“,
that is, entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity. In this sense, I believe William of Ockham gave a real contribution to the scientific method.
Whether we should include the above law in the corpus of principia outlining the way science should be done, it is open to discussion. The scientific method is based on rational reasoning, on the systematic observation of the physical world through repeatable experiments, and on the creation of theories which agree with observed empirical facts and are liable to be disproven. Is there room for Occam’s razor ?
Sure, one cannot prefer a theory to another based uniquely on their relative parsimony. But the lex parsimoniae is indeed a strong guidance in the formulation of theories, so much so that scientists have interiorized it deep in the headquarters of their logical reasoning, no less than other fundamenta such as the time-ordering of cause and effect. They can construct exotic theories and they sometimes do, but they keep a restrained attitude even then. It is built in their genes.
Of course, I am talking about real scientists here, not about philosophers who come to like so much a theoretical construct to believe it must represent reality against all odds. They have abandoned the scientific method long ago. You know who I am talking about!
Long live Occam’s razor. These are not times when we can lighten our baggage to travel faster: these are times when we need as much rigor as we can give to ourselves in the investigation of the physical world.