Occam’s Razor

Why Simple Explanations Are More Likely To Be True.


You've heard the saying: just because it's plausible doesn't mean it's probable, right? No?

Well, now you have.

Complex explanations can sound quite plausible (e.g., "A caused B, which mixed with C, leading to D."). But, again, plausibility ain’t probability.

You see, the more assumptions that must be spot-on for an explanation to hold water, the shakier its foundation becomes. For instance, if your wild theory relies on three separate 75% likely assumptions, odds are it's not as solid as you thought.

Quick maths: 75% x 75% x 75% = a mere 42% chance your explanation is correct. Not so intuitive.

Enter Occam's Razor, also known as the principle of parsimony, a philosophical guideline as well as a problem-solving and decision-making tool that favors hypotheses with the fewest assumptions and simplest explanations

It's like an insurance policy against our minds spinning elaborate tales about reality, when, in reality, the truth is more straightforward (and often boring).

While Occam's Razor isn't foolproof, simple explanations typically hold more weight than complex ones.

Let’s look at two totally different examples:

1) If, as a manager, you’re trying to determine the cause of a sudden drop in employee productivity — instead of speculating about complicated interpersonal issues or conspiracy theories, Occam's Razor would suggest you initially investigate simpler explanations, such as new distractions in the office environment or recent policy changes.

2) When experiencing headaches, you might be inclined to assume the worst, like a serious medical condition (based on rare circumstances). However, Occam's Razor would encourage you to first consider simpler explanations, such as dehydration or eye strain.

Occam’s Razor is a powerful tool you can use to find good explanations instead of defaulting to elaborate (but wrong) ones.

Here are 3 more concepts that will make you smarter:

Mean Regression

Via Negativa

Bayesian Thinking