What Ockham really said
2013-02-21 0:00

By Jacques Vallee | BoingBoing.net


In the arsenal of eternal skeptics there are few tools more dramatically and more commonly used than Ockham’s razor. It is triumphantly applied to resolve arguments about ghosts (more parsimoniously seen as misperceptions by distraught family members or the suggestible), UFOs (evidently hoaxes and mistaken observations of natural phenomena) and telepathy (a “delusion” of wishful thinking and poorly-constructed tests).

Born in England, Franciscan monk William of Ockham (c. 1287–1347) is among the most prominent figures in the history of philosophy during the High Middle Ages. The Skeptics Dictionary quotes the Razor as Pluralitas non est ponenda sine necessitate, or “plurality should not be posited without necessity," while Wikipedia defines Ockham’s razor as follows:
“Among competing hypotheses, the one that makes the fewest assumptions should be selected.”

And it gives the following example of its application:
“It is possible to describe the other planets in the Solar System as revolving around the Earth, but that explanation is unnecessarily complex compared to the contemporary consensus that all planets in the Solar System revolve around the Sun.” Another often-quoted formulation of the principle is that “one should not multiply entities beyond necessity.”

Brother Ockham, however, said nothing of the kind. Later philosophers have put these words into his mouth for their own convenience.

Here is what he wrote, according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:
“Nothing ought to be posited without a reason given, unless it is self-evident or known by experience or proved by the authority of Sacred Scripture.”

So let’s come back to the planets, and apply Ockham’s razor–as formulated by the man himself–to a comparison between two different hypotheses about their motion.

The contemporary consensus states that they revolve around the sun according to the Copernican system, Kepler’s laws of motion and Newton’s model of gravity, as demonstrated by complex observations and significant mathematical underpinning.

Our alternative hypothesis simply states that they are moved around the sky by angels, as illustrated in this beautiful painting from the Breviari d’amor of Matfre Ermengaud, where a convenient gear mechanism is gracefully activated to regulate planetary motion. Ermengaud was a contemporary of Ockham and, like him, a Franciscan friar.

Were we to apply Ockham’s formulation of the razor literally, the choice between these two hypotheses is clear. It does not favor the first hypothesis, the standard scientific interpretation. The Scriptures clearly state that angels do exist, and their reality was re-affirmed by Pope John Paul II as recently as August 1986. Since they manifest through their actions in the heavens, the second hypothesis appears far more parsimonious and elegant than the complicated rationalizations used by mathematicians and astronomers, which involve unseen entities such as the acceleration of gravity, centrifugal force, and mass, which - to this day - raise issues that science is yet to resolve. If you seriously believe in angels, then the contemporary consensus about planetary motion is a case of “plurality without necessity.”

The second hypothesis is also more powerful since angels can just as easily move the planets around the earth as around the sun. They can do whatever they like—and thereby explain any phenomena.

Perhaps we should be more careful when we quote ancient authors out of context, or twist their words to fit the convenient modern tenets of skepticism in the name of Reason. The Scriptures are full of ghosts, UFOs and examples of telepathy - which means that such phenomena cannot be dissected and thrown out using Ockham’s razor anyway.

We know, of course, that the planets revolve around the Sun, an idea that would have shocked Ockham. And I firmly believe that, in philosophy and in science we should go on selecting the hypothesis that makes the fewest assumption when confronted with competing explanations, and one should not multiply entities beyond necessity -- even if Brother William never said so.

But we should also remember that nature is not parsimonious at all.

Article from: boingboing.net



Related Articles


Latest News from our Front Page

Barbara Lerner Spectre On Twitter!
2015-07-28 23:04
Kevin MacDonald writes in 2010: In the video below, Barbara Lerner Spectre, who runs a government-funded Jewish study group in Sweden, makes the following remarkable statement—remarkable because she does not attribute anti-Jewish attitudes to irrational prejudices or even Muslims who hate Israel. Instead she says that it’s because of the “leading role” played by Jews in the movement toward multiculturalism: “I think ...
Sweden investigating underwater wreckage as possible Russian submarine
2015-07-28 20:38
What may be the wreckage of a Russian submarine is seen off the coast of Sweden The Swedish military is studying a video taken by shipwreck hunters who say it shows a wrecked submarine, just off the country’s eastern coast, which appears to be Russian. Ocean X Team, the company behind the discovery, said on its website: “It is unclear how old ...
Literal Cuckservatives
2015-07-28 20:30
The Dissidenti™™ and their frazzled hall monitors buzzsaw with talk about “cuckservatives.” It’s the shiv du jour, you see. As shivs go, it is in this ‘umble narrator’s opinion one of the more lethal of the semantic shanks employed by dark realists. Lovers and haters of the Cuck Shiv gird for battle (well, the haters girdle for battle). The wielders love ...
The Inevitable - The Daily Beast Begins The Personal Attacks To Tear Down Trump….
2015-07-28 19:46
Only the politically naive didn’t see this coming. The liberal outlet “The Daily Beast” begins to attack Donald Trump personally, through a method of hiding behind citations in old books and manipulating content/context delivery to attack their target. The Daily Beast takes this very specific and very strategic approach because references to the statements/opinions of others  allows them to avoid libel and ...
Residents of Dresden Wake up to Find Overnight, City Park Has Been Turned Into Migrant Camp For 2,000
2015-07-27 23:34
The German city which dared to stand-up to their government’s policy of accepting Islamisation and mass migration appears to have been punished for dissent by the zero-notice imposition of a migrant camp. Government employees stood by the entrance of a city park in Dresden, Saxony on Thursday night handing out fliers to passers-by informing them the next day the green space, ...
More News »