Saturday, 17 February 2007

Occam's Razor

is not a law, I don't care how many people say it. It's a theory, and one that is demonstrably false as often as it is true. Rationalists tend to jump on Occam's Razor in every argument in order to underpin a reductionist-materialism, but the simple facts are:

1.The universe does not care how many parts or entities are used in any given system. Needless complexity is often present in reality.
2.The 'mental monism' of Bishop Berkeley et al (the idea that only Mind exists, that the appearance of matter is just a function of the true, incorporeal, reality) passes Occam's Razor better than any kind of materialism could hope to. This does not affect the truth or otherwise of a non-materialist viewpoint, and neither does it challenge the principle of the Razor. It merely establishes the theory's neutrality.

Now stop it, I don't want to have to say this again.

The discussion went as follows:

Nasaka: Your last blog was pro-materialism.


This one isn't anti-materialist; I was simply trying to establish that Occam's Razor does not always tow the rationalist-scientific line. When taken to its logical conclusion the theory would best support a completely non-materialist world view as the existence of mind (or spirit; or "geist"; or God) alone simplifies the universe far more than the multi-parted nature of matter can.

But like I say, this doesn't mean that anti-materialism is correct; because Occam's Razor, despite the way many people seem to use it, is only an Idea That Someone Once Thought Up. It has no grander significance than that, and is by no means either part of the structure of reality or a self-evident truth.


which do you personally hold to be true?


What I was trying to express with the previous blog ('Matter') was that neither materialism nor its opposite are wholly satisfactory. They are based on human perception and ideas, and the truth lies beyond the duality - the two are united on a higher plane of understanding, so to speak, where both matter and spirit are exposed as being different ways of understanding the same one thing, which is Being...or, Becoming.


nut butters, or jellies?


Jelly is made from gelatine. Nut butter all the way for me.

But my personal morality doesn't affect the innate structure of reality, if that's what you're trying to get at.


oh you british! by jellies I mean wobbly fruit spreads.


OK. I couldn't see the relevance of the original comment but now it's much clearer.


Just a small point: Berkeley's idealism endorsed the existence of minds and ideas. External objects exist (which is why it is an empirical doctrine), but they are maintained within a mind. This mind was explicitly cited as God's mind by Berkeley.

Occam's razor is quite useful in determining whether a scientific theory has practical applications by making type/token distinctions in the theory's ontology, i.e., by classing or grouping the entities of the theory. The more sophisticated a theory prohibits general application and testability.


A valid point about Occam's Razor. I would not question its usefulness, my point was merely that it is not something that can be thrown against any statement. Its usefulness is not absolute and is limited to the empirical sciences.

My understanding of Berkeley is that he sought to remove all non-empirically verifiable statements from philosophy (such as Newton's force of gravity, an internal property of objects which we have no access to) and replace all these causal mechanisms with the action of God in maintaining an apparently mechanical, 'cause-effect' universe.


And what Berkeley meant by "external object" is not "that which can exist unperceived". He meant collections of sense data or a single sense datum--which by definition cannot exist independent from a mind.

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