Ockham’s Principle

William of Ockham is credited with establishing the principle bearing his name (although spelled differently). In actuality there is minimal information attributable to William. The essence of the principle is apparent in his statement “Numquam ponenda est pluralitas sine necessitate.” [Plurality must never be posited without necessity.] The term Occam’s Razor first appeared in 1852 within the works of Sir William Hamilton, the Ninth Baronet.

The Occam principle has also been termed the law of parsimony, economy or succinctness. Most ideas have a thread of logic that explains the concept. The better that the concept is understood; the simpler the explanation should be. Essence is simple. If something is explained completely with the minimum number of words or components, then in all likelihood it is close to the essence of the matter. Our greatest teachers are those who have been able to simplify the concepts that they teach to the most basic ingredients.

Simplicity applies not only to conceptual explanations but to the physical universe. Just a few laws of physics can explain a vast array of phenomena. If there are many different complex physical laws applicable to a particular situation, the interfacing of these various principles would tend to interfere with each other rendering the resulting universe unrecognizable. However, if the complexity of the observed phenomenon can be boiled down to a few simple principles, then the likelihood that the explanation is adequate is greatly increased.

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