Occam's Razor – What ?


Occam's razor (also spelled Ockham's razor) is a principle attributed to the 14th-century English logician and Franciscan friar William of Ockham (ca. 1285-1349).

The principle is often expressed in Latin as:
entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem,

which translates to:
entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity.

An alternative way of stating this principle is:
Pluralitas non est ponenda sine neccesitate

which translates to:
plurality should not be posited without necessity

I like this later translation the best. The reason that Occam's Razor connects with me so deeply is that we all live in an increasingly complex world where we all try to complicate things way too much in trying to understand event/activities/outcomes/happenings, or in our case web data. Yet in almost every case the reason for sub optimal outcomes is the complexity that we insert into the analysis from our thinking (assumptions, hypotheses).

I am sure I am taking my own poetic license in understanding the principle and internalizing it but Occam's Razor is always at the back of my mind because it reminds me that often we need to simplify our thinking. The simpler the explanation the more likely it is better than a complex one.

For us in the Decision Making field my recommendation is that to truly understand complex sets of data we should apply the Occam's Razor "smell test".

If you are interested in detailed background on this principle you can check out its Wikipedia entry. Another great resource is the Skeptic's Dictionary.