The two edges of Ockham's razor (was: Making sense of EPW)

Russell Turpin deafbox at
Tue Apr 29 17:36:37 PDT 2003

Jeff Bone:
>I guess what I would say is that EPW is an abstraction of physical theory, 
>based on the assumption that you don't prune phase space based on 
>particular constants and laws, you merely cluster it around them. I.e., it 
>doesn't necessarily assume that locally observed constants and laws are in 
>the larger sense universal (or meta-universal) --- which IMHO is good 
>scientific bias.

There's a very interesting insight here, which
is that the simpler the ontological theory,
the greater the number of universes that are
assumed to exist. Quantum theory, in its essence,
gives rise to many universes. They ARE the wave
function. To pare that down to the one universe
we observe, it's necessary to give some sort of
ontologically special status to us, either as
macroscopic objects or as observers or in some
other fashion. This complicates the theory,
some would say to its breaking point, but pares
down the number of universes.

What gives rise to EPW is the notion that there
is no difference between a fully rendered
simulation and the reality so simulated. One
could make further assumptions about which
universes count as "real," thus simultaneously
(a) complicating the theory, and (b) reducing
the number of assumed universes.

I've seen this tension elsewhere in discussions
of Ockham's razor. There are two fundamentally
different interpretations of Ockham's principle.
One says don't make your theory more complex than
necessary. The other says don't multiply the
assumed objects more than necessary. These often
run in contrary direction, when axioms are
introduced to get rid of spurious objects. The
first variant can be justified in much the same
way as hypothetico-deductive science: if a weaker
theory gives rise to the same predictions, then
the "excess" in the stronger theory is not
justified by the evidence at hand. It is fluff.
The second variation has always seemed rather
naive to me, since it is essentially a supposition
in favor of a smaller universe/meta-verse.

I think there's a pop-sci book waiting to be
written here. Do you think there's any money in

Tired of spam? Get advanced junk mail protection with MSN 8.

More information about the FoRK mailing list