Monday, October 10, 2011
Revisiting Occam's Razor during these confusing times
There is a principle that suggests that the simplest explanation or way of doing things is probably best all things being equal. In otherwords in deciding between A and B, choose the simpler of the two.
I love this principle because in an age of seemingly unlimted information, it is too easy to entertain wild ideas that spread like wildfire on the internet and other media. I thought about this recently as we revisited the events surrounding 911.
After 911, almost immediately, "conspiracy theories" cropped up by organizations such as the "truthers" that made extraordinary claims about the real cause behind 911. I'm reminded of Carl Sagan that said, "extraordinay claims require extraordinary proof."
The History Channel did a special where they investigated the claims made by conspiracy theorists surrounding the events of 911. They then provided a scientific explanation. For example, it was claimed that 911 was an inside job involving a group of people that used explosives to bring the towers down. As evidence they point to video footage of windows seeming to explode before the tower fell.
I have to admit that the first time I saw the footage, I was intrigued and entertained the idea that perhaps some evil geniuses master minded the fall of the towers from the inside using explosives. The History Channel had scientists that explained that the air pressure and heat inside the buildings caused the wind to push to the side before exiting out the windows. So what were are seeinng is air being pushed through the glass.
Now using Occam's Razor, let's ask ourselves, "is it more likely that condensed air pressure caused the glass to shatter or is it more likely that a group of people were able to booby trap a complete building without being detected and then have the building collaps in perfect synchrony to coincide with the location of the airplane crash?
See the simper answer makes more sense right?
I do not want the reader to get the impression that science is without fault and final. Nor am I blind to the inherent flaws in science, namely measuring variables and interpretating the results. In fact I do believe that one can experience the "mystical" and certain subjective forces may not be able to be quantified objetively. This should not invalidate the experience or phenomena.
I put the arts in this category. How can one adequately meausure the inspiration that causes singers to create love ballads or artists paint images never seen before?
These ramblings are presented as a caution to blindly accepting incredible claims as facts. Believe me, the world would be more exciting if I chose to believe faries visit me daily. But using Occam's Razor, I'm wagering it's a mundane bird or insect.