Ockham’s Razor ─ When is the Simpler Theory Better?
by Elliot Sober
Many scientists believe that the search for simple theories is not optional; rather, it is a requirement of the scientific enterprise. When theories get too complex, scientists reach for Ockham’s razor, the principle of parsimony, to do the trimming. This principle says that a theory that postulates fewer entities, processes, or causes is better than a theory that postulates more, so long as the simpler theory is compatible with what we observe. Ockham’s razor presents a puzzle. It is obvious that simple theories may be beautiful and easy to remember and understand. The hard problem is to explain why the fact that one theory is simpler than another tells you anything about the way the world is. In my lecture, I’ll describe two solutions.
Lecture will be on Wednesday, April 19th at 5:30pm in RH300.