Occam’s Blunt Razor

There’s a principle in philosophy called Occam’s razor. The definition of it varies depending on the source, but the one I like the most is that the simplest explanation is usually the right one.

It’s a principle that is useful to explain many conundrums and can eliminate unnecessary details. The more complicated the setup of an explanation is, the less likely it is to be true.

Have a headache? It could be a tumor, or you could just be dehydrated. Is the tire flat? Maybe you have a nasty enemy who slashed the tire, or it could just be a nail. There was a flash of light outside the windows. A meteor crashing down? No, that was probably a flash of lightning.

In the past few years, I’ve toyed with a variation of this principle that I like to use in place of the original one. It has a more pessimistic tone – as if it proclaims that, yes, the simplest explanation is indeed the right one, but also with a hint of disappointment.

Occam’s Blunt Razor

If there are several competing ideas to explain a phenomenon or predict the outcome of an upcoming situation, the most boring one is usually the right one.

It’s a great principle for predicting the future. This makes it especially useful for scientific predictions. It successfully predicted that the traces of a chemical in the clouds of Venus was not a sign of microbial life.

As you may already have noticed, it’s really close to the original principle. In probably more than 90% of all situations, the original Occam’s razor will be just as viable to explain a situation as Occam’s blunt razor is. Take for example the murder of John F. Kennedy in 1963. Originally, the murderer was Lee Harvey Oswald acting on his own accord, but there are a lot of conspiracy theories floating around involving various other parties. Those would be significantly more interesting, so Occam’s blunt razor predicts that Oswald did indeed do it on his own accord because that’s the most boring explanation. However, the normal Occam’s razor comes to the same conclusion. Oswald did it because that’s just the simplest explanation.

In most cases, Occam’s blunt razor is thus not really different than using Occam’s razor when it comes to the conclusion of the principle, but sometimes I use it anyway because of the hint of disappointment. Yes, it turned out there was no life in the clouds of Venus after all, but what a damn shame!

However, there are situations where the explanation might not be clear cut with just Occam’s razor. Take Betelgeuse going supernova, for example. It could happen today, it could happen in a thousand years. I’m not sure I would want Occam’s razor predicting this one. It seems to be down to pure luck. Occam’s blunt razor, however, predicts that it will not happen in your lifetime, because that would be interesting.

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