I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving. Now that the holiday weekend of sloth and gluttony has ended, I can return the usual topics at hand here at Inside Pulse you expect me to cover. It’s also back to answering reader emails.
I know what “Occam’s Razor” is, but where did the term originate?
It’s a good question, although I think a lot of people may not know what that phrase means and how it is used in philosophical discussion, so I’m going to cover that as well.
The term “Occam’s Razor” relates back to he who invented the concept; one William of Ockham, who lived from 1285 AD/CE to 1349 AD/CE. The actual name for this “philosophical rule” is, “the law of parsimony,” but we use the vernacular much the same way we call amyotrophic lateral sclerosis “Lou Gehrig’s Disease.”
Before we go into WHAT Occam’s Razor means and represents, I figure it’s a good idea to give you a back history of William of Ockham. Ockham was a Franciscan Monk and professor/lecturer at Oxford University from 1309 to 1319. Ockham taught theology and philosophy and argued against the opposing school of thought at Oxford, the Scholastics, who believed that Christian dogma and faith could be explained through logic and simple human reasoning. Ockham stated that religion, due to it being based in faith, could never be fully explained through reason or study.
It was through these debates that Ockham developed the “Razor” as a intellectual weapon against Scholastic religious debators.
For those unaware of what Occam’s Razor is, it is a statement that means all explanations for any phenomenon we observe or are informed about should be kept simple with all complications or excess pared away, leaving only the simplest aspects on an argument. The exact wording Ockham used was, “Entities must not needlessly be multiplied.”
What all this means is that one should always take the simplest explanation over the more complex commentary. When faced with two explanations or hypothesis about something, always take the simpler. A scientist or observer should explain the unusual or bizarre thrown already proven or known phenomena or occurrences, rather than speculating on new or unproven ones.
Occam’s Razor is commonly used in the philosophical circles because it places logical limits on the myriad of infinite possibilities for an occurrence or phenomena.
Occam’s Razor is not a failsafe though. Keep that in mind. It’s a tool for keeping debates and conjecture grounded in substance instead of fiction. Occam’s Razor does not lead one using it necessarily to the right conclusion either. All it does is aid one to choose between choices. There have been several times in recorded philosophy and science where Occam’s Razor was applied and it led them down the wrong road. One such occurrence of this involved a study of evolution called The Piltdown Man
I’m going to go off on a tangent now to explain Piltdown Man. Pildown man is arguably the most famous fraud in Paleontology, and it’s acceptance as scientific fact, which occurred through the use of Occam’s Razor, screwed up the study of human evolution and our origins for over three decades.
In 1912 a solicitor by the name of Charles Dawson (no, not Darwin) visited the head of the British Museum’s geological collection, one Arthur Smith Woodward. Dawson claimed that he possessed some fossilized skull fragments that he found in a gravel quarry in Sussex, and so Woodward accompanied him back to the quarry along with a priest named Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.
On one of these trips to the quarry, Dawson unearthed a lower jawbone that appeared apelike in shape and size, whereas the earlier skull fragments resembled modern man’s head. All three noticed that the teeth in the apelike jawbone resembled a human’s more than a simian’s.
From these discoveries and trips. Woodward wrote a paper in December, 1912 about what they called the Piltdown man, also referred to with the scientific name of Eoanthropus dawsoni. Gotta love the ego of researchers, eh?
As with any paper on the subject of new extinct (oxymoron?) species being discovered, the scientific community was skeptical. Several scientists felt the jaw and skull did not belonged together and pointed out that two important parts of the jaw were missing. They were the chin and the bits of the lower jaw where they would connect to the upper jaw, which of course would connect it to the skull. So these observations were valid and made excellent points as to the validity of the Piltdown man. But as time went on the the quarry was explored further, it seemed that the skeptics were being proven wrong.
In 1913, Teilhard de Chardin found a canine tooth (not the tooth of A canine you sillies) that had both man and ape characteristics. In 1915, Dawson found two more skull fragments and a similar tooth to what de Chardin had found, but in a different quarry. Even though the finders were not the man who wrote the paper, their discoveries were eventually accepted as fact.
Piltdown Man was accepted for the most part until 1949. It was then that a man named Kenneth Oakley studied the skull and tooth fragments in detail that he discovered something very significant about them: the bits of Piltdown man had not been in the quarry for as long as scientists had been assumed.
Armed with this knowledge, Oakley studied the remains until 1953 when he released his findings. The Piltdown man was a fraud. The bone fragments has been stained to resemble age. The teeth that were found had been carefully filed from their original ape condition to resemble human teeth. The skull fragments were from a modern human skull, and the jaw bone was that of a dead orangutan.
So the Piltdown man, who was accepted as fact due to people going, “Hey! Simple explanation. This same thing was found several times. Must be real!” per the Occam Razor doctrine, was proven false.
If you’d like to learn more about the Piltdown Man, and how the fraud was perpetuated for 35 years and what all came of it, I suggest J.S. Weiner’s book, The Piltdown Forgery or Miles Russell’s Piltdown Man: The Secret Life of Charles Dawson & The World’s Greatest Archaeological Hoax
As for Mr. Ockham (thought I forgot about him, eh?), well he was tried for heresy in 1324 by Pope John XXII for his views on Christianity and faith. He eventually fled to Germany to avoid Catholic persecution. He died in Bavaria of the Black Plague. Not the happiest way to end one’s life, eh?
There we go. Two topics blurred together in one long answer. Hope that helps Michelle, even if I did go on a tangent from what you originally wanted.
After Thanksgiving, I’m pretty tuckered out regarding cooking. So I thought I’d do something very simple, quick, and yet hearty and warm for everyone, especially as I came back to Minneapolis with snow on the ground late Saturday evening. Boo snow.
1 tablespoon barley
4 cups water
1 1/3 teaspoons sesame oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 medium sized celery stalks, chopped
6 regular mushrooms, sliced
2 shitake mushrooms, with the stems removed and sliced finely
1/4 of a medium cabbage, shredded
2 thin slices fresh ginger, peeled.
1/4 cup kidney beans, cooked
4 tablespoons red barely miso paste
8 ounces extra-firm tofu
1 scallion, sliced finely
6-8 green beans, ends trimmed
1. Combine barley and water in large pot. bring the water to a boil, and simmer covered for 20 minutes.
2. In a separate pan, add the sesame oil. Saute the onion and celery in the oil over medium heat for about 2-4 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cabbage and saute a further 2-3 minutes.
3. Add saute mixture, ginger, and green beans to barley broth and simmer covered for 20 minutes.
4. When ready to serve, remove 1 cup of broth from pot and stir into miso paste until smooth. Return broth mixed with the miso paste to pot, remove from heat, and stir gently. DO NOT COOK ANY FURTHER ONCE MISO IS ADDED. Add the tofu and let soup sit for 3-5 minutes.
5. Stir soup before serving. Add scallions and serve.
Last week in Culture we saw:
Rachael bring up the Unibomber and Bug Balm in the same column.
Elle talks taters!
Mark reviews The Hot Kid.
Sinead talks RLS.
Carla reviews Apocrypha.
Spike talks Thanksgiving.
Bat makes Charles Schultz rise from his grave in search of her blood.
In Music, Gloomchen plugs REAL ULTIMATE POWER!
In Games, Lee reviews the new Fatal Frame game. I’ll wait for the Xbox version as always.
Mark B. reviews Karaoke Revolution and enjoyed it. Me? I don’t do Karaoke. It’s not that I can’t sing. I just don’t like to.
In Movies, Robert Sutton shows he doesn’t get The Man With the Screaming Brain. Fire him McCullar! FIRE HIM NOW!
Speaking of McCullar, I need him to explain to me what people find so enjoyable about Harry Potter. I just don’t like the books or the films.
Finally, I have to plug PK as I totally zoned on writing Herokliq last week. Oops.
Although I’m done with Video gaming for quite some time I do want to state the following: BUY SMACKDOWN vs RAW 2006. Although I hated WM XXI and Day of Reckoning 2, SvR2k6 has been the most enjoyable video game I’ve played in this genre since the days of the Dreamcast. Get it and get it now! I’ll see you all next week.