Who is Occam?
Actually Occam (or Ockham) is a town in England, not a man. More specifically, it’s the town where William of Occam was born. William lived from about 1285 to 1349, during the medieval age, a time when surnames were uncommon and people were known by their place of provenance [source: Beckett].
William lived as a philosopher and a Franciscan monk, a pious man who took very seriously his vow of poverty, meaning he lived using only what was absolutely necessary. One might get the impression that it was this vow of poverty — a form of simplicity — that gave William his big idea. In fact, the basis of Occam’s razor was an already well-established line of medieval thought by William’s time. William captured the essence of the principle and packaged it in a way that was easily understood (by anyone who knew Latin, at least). By creating a couple of simple sentences, he managed to encapsulate a world of medieval logic, ensuring its safe passage into modern times. Kind of makes you wonder what great wisdom wasn’t similarly packaged and is lost forever, doesn’t it? Read more….
What is Occam’s Razor?
You’ve probably heard it before: The simplest explanation is usually the right one. Detectives use it to deduce who’s the likeliest suspect in a murder case — you know, the butler did it. Doctors use it to determine the illness behind a set of symptoms.This line of reasoning is called Occam’s razor. It’s used in a wide variety of ways throughout the world as a means to slice through a problem or situation and eliminate unnecessary elements. But what we call the razor is a little different than what its author originally wrote. There are two parts that are considered the basis of Occam’s razor, and they were originally written in Latin:
The Principle of Plurality – Plurality should not be posited without necessity
The Principle of Parsimony – It is pointless to do with more what is done with less
Taken together, they represent the basis of humanity’s investigation into the universe, and the way we see our environment is largely based upon Occam’s razor. There’s no telling what kind of world we would live in today without Occam’s razor. Would we have the Internet? Would we have inoculations?
Consider simple systems in nature, like viruses and plants, and their ability to carry out complex tasks such as infection and photosynthesis. We value these simple models. And when it comes to man-made systems, we tend to base structures upon what we already know works — the simplest explanation to us — like computer memory modeled on our own brain processes. All of which points to the principles of plurality and parsimony. Read more…. [source: How Stuff Works]