Occam’s Shadow

Occam’s razor sometimes casts a dark shadow.

“Speaking on the myths and misconceptions surrounding the demise of the video game manufacturer Atari, founder Nolan Bushnell notes that “a simple answer that is clear and precise will always have more power in the world than a complex one that is true.” Bushnell’s observation is not limited to the situation with Atari. When it comes to subjects that are not fully understood, it seems to be a reality of human nature that we have a propensity to prefer easy answers and simple “truths” over more complex—and oftentimes more accurate—explanations. This certainly describes the study of the history of psychology: many prefer simplistic answers that ignore inconvenient facts, rather than explanations that take into account the full range of human experience and all its fascinating complexities.

“People often display a strong preference for simple answers and a compulsion to have everything settled (rather than withholding judgment until more information is available); we seem to have an aversion toward unknowns and ambiguity. Yet subjects that we are not entirely familiar with are generally more complex than we first realize. It behooves us to resist the impulse to make snap judgments and succumb to the illusion of mastery for subjects we don’t fully understand. by prematurely making up our mind about a topic we are unfamiliar with, we risk the tendency to oversimplify and to only seek evidence that confirms our existing beliefs. withholding an opinion on new ideas until we have adequate information to make an informed judgment takes a great deal of effort and self-discipline.”

Gods, Voices and the Bicameral Mind
Edited by Marcel Kuijsten
Introduction, pp. 7-8

Thoreau: Truth and Simplicity

Thoreau: Truth and Simplicity

Posted on Apr 30th, 2008 by Marmalade : Gaia Child Marmalade

Thoreau’s Walden was one of the books I read at a pivotal point in my life, and certain quotes have stuck with me.

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, to discover that I had not lived.  I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary.  I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and to be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.”

Truth and experience… two themes of my life.  At least some credit has to go to Thoreau for my identifying myself as a truth-seeker.  Be it mean or sublime, just give it to me straight.  This quote is a bit melodramatic, but it spoke to me at a time of my life when everything seemed melodramatic.  I felt like I understood what drove him to the woods. 

“I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings. In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness. If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”

This second quote is more close to my heart.  I’ve had most of it memorized for many years now… starting with the “In proportion” part.  I was attracted to the notion of simplifying my life and this relates to the first quote about truth.  And the castles in the air had clear resonance for a dreamer like me.

How can anyone go wrong with truth and simplicity?

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Nicole : wakingdreamer

about 15 hours later

Nicole said

truth and simplicity are anathema to guilt and shame… sad

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

about 22 hours later

Marmalade said

Yep… sad.

Have you ever read Thoreau?  Its been more than a decade since I read him.  I was thinking about rereading Walden one of these days.

Nicole : wakingdreamer

2 days later

Nicole said

funny, Ben, actually I haven’t. I have read so many excerpts I feel like I have 🙂 but it’s not the same as allowing his thoughts to wash over one, as being immersed from beginning to end in Walden or one of his other works.

so many books, so little time, honey!