July 2017

What is Occam’s razor?

July 1, 2017

You would’ve probably heard the term ‘Occam’s razor’ before, probably from a friend or in your physics tuition class. But you are not sure what it means?
Well, Occam’s razor refers to the scientific principle or philosophical idea that simplest explanation is usually the correct one. That is, among all the explanations behind an event, the simplest one is most likely to be the right one. One thing you must understand that the goal of Occam’s razor is not to give absolute proof, but rather to identify the simplest answer to the question of why a particular event occurred.
This principle or philosophy is used by detectives to determine who the main suspect in a crime is. Doctors use it to find the illness from a set of symptoms. This principle is also used by scientists.
As a matter of fact, Occam’s razor is used in many ways by us to gain better understanding of a situation or problem and to remove unnecessary elements.
Occam’s razor is based on 2 parts:
The Principle of Plurality – Unless absolutely necessary, plurality should be avoided
The Principle of Parsimony – What can be done with less must not be done with more
Combined together, these two form the basis of how we investigate the Universe. These two also form the basis of the way we look at our environment. It is hard to imagine our world without this principle.
Simplest Explanation = Best Explanation
Shared ahead are some examples to help you improve your understanding of Occam’s razor.
Event: Your car tire has flattened. Possible explanations: (a) a sharp pointed object has punctured it; (b) there’s a serial tire-flattener on the prowl and your car’s tire is the latest victim; (c) kids of the neighborhood have punctured your tire using their geometry compasses. Of all these explanations, “a” appears to be the more likely reason.
Event: It’s raining cats and dogs and you see a flash of light through your curtains. Possible explanations: (a) What you saw was lightening; (b) Someone clicked your pictures from outside. It is most likely the reason behind the event is ‘a’.
Event: A car hit another vehicle from behind during rush hour on a highway. Possible explanations: (a) The driver hadn’t expected the traffic to stop suddenly and so couldn’t press the brakes on time; (b) The driver got distracted because seven ducks were walking on the road side. The explanation ‘a’ is more likely to be the cause of the event.
Event: A man has repeated bouts of vomiting after eating at a food truck. Possible explanations: (a) The man might have food poisoning; (b) The man suffers from liver cancer. It is more likely that the man has food poisoning. That is explanation ‘a’ is more likely.
Now you would have a fair understanding of Occam’s razor and how it works. If needed, ask your JC physics tuition teacher for further examples. If you can remember that for any particular problem, it makes better sense to pick the simplest explanation, you’ll be fine.

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