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Occam’s Plastic Spork

November 2, 2011

Introduction, written after the fact:

Please excuse this ramble.  Sometimes ideas just bounce around in my head, and right now, I have no more room left for this one to go un-expressed…but please don’t go assuming this is well thought out…even if it has been long thought out…  and it is only as serious as you wish to take it ;)

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I remember many things from my first year of college quite vividly (which is actually quite amazing, given the years that have rolled passed since.)  Amazing things, amazing people.   But what is most relevant to what follows in this post: it is quite awesome to think about some of the creative ways of writing “papers” I tried and actually got away with.

No- I’m not talking about the starting a 9 page paper at 2am and getting it printed and in the professor’s hands at the start of class at 9am across campus..  although that certainly did happen, and quite more frequently than I am proud of ;)

Some of the first papers that I wrote were assignments for political science and philosophy classes, and I chose a method of expression usually not used for college papers: dialogue.  Although, more like “polylogue” crossed with playwright and a minimum set of stage direction.   I say this, because, it was both a really straightforward way of presenting thoughts and counter-thoughts on academic subjects, and yet so far out of the actual parameters of the assignments in question, it’s a wonder I got A’s and not F’s :).  Hey, take a chance: win big!

So what follows is NOT something I thought of or handed  in during my college years, though my wit remains un-dulled these many years hence…  Nor is it a good example of advancing thought.  But it is a shortcut for exposition.

That being said, I have a scientific (cough!) precept that has been gaining traction in the deep parts of my brain — the parts that often stay busy churning out weird thoughts and subtly re-written Monty Python sketches, memories of the past and the future, mystic musings, and the occasional catch-phrase.  Lacking the motivation to actually reason it out fully, realize that it is a scientic precept the way that “fried eggs” is a recipe.

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Occam’s Plastic Spork

The part of Thoughtful and Patient Listener can be played by many people, as I work this out in my head.  I have a list of people who I have “play-ran” such conversations in my head with, just to see how this all argues out.  What follows is a completely un-edited subtext of thought regarding what could be a philosophical breakthrough.

Thoughtful and Patient Listener: So, Dave.  I understand you have this new precept you wanted to run by me.

Dave: yup.  You’re familiar with the Scientific precept known as “Occam’s Razor”?

TaPL: You mean the one you first heard about in  the movie “Contact”?

Dave: Yeah..that’s it.  You see, my theory is that Occam had to eat, right?  He couldn’t just survive by cutting to the chase… he had to actually (I assume it’s a ‘he’– {shouts to someone offstage: “Anyone know if Occam was a dude?” ..muffled response from offstage: ‘who the F*** is Occam?!’} — ok, let’s assume Occam’s a dude — eat, right? 

TaPL {patience slipping}: YES

Dave: Okay.  Well, I propose that in addition to cutting to the chase (we assume occam’s razor –{or was he british, and did he spell razor with an ‘s’?} –  was metaphoric, right? ) .. and getting a smooth shave .. scientifically speaking, of course…  Occam would have great use for a plastic spork.  Or a wooden one {shouts back to offstage: “Any chance there was plastic around when Occam developed the razor?” ..muffled response, louder this time, “OK.. Wiki says Ockham/Occam was from the middle ages… must’ve been a primitive razor!”} … Well.. that settles it, Occam would really have had a use for a plastic spork, but coming from the middle ages, he needed to settle for things as mundane as normal forks, and razors.  That explains it…

TaPL: not sure I am following …

Dave: It’s quite simple really.  Occam’s Razor, at least these days, boils down to the idea that “All things being equal, the simplest explanation tends to be the best one” ..  or, stated a little differently, “If  one removes certain variables from the equation, and accept a specific set of ‘givens’, the simplest explanation tends to be the correct one, and the simplest solution the best”

TaPL: yup..”Contact”..I saw it too

Dave: Well, you see.  Occam saw it a little differently.  It was more along the lines of “Do not over-complicate”, not “Try to reduce to the most simple”…there is a subtle difference… and for that difference,  I suggest that we apply the precept “Occam’s Plastic Spork” to sort the whole mess out.  Life rarely is simply a beard needing shaving … or a precise problem needing razor-like precision.  Many of the problems facing us today do not have simple solutions that can fit the space of a Tweet or a 5-second buzz-clip.

TaPL: o….k…  and “plastic spork”?

Dave: Well–it sounded good in my head.  Occam’s Plastic Spork is a tangent to the scientific precept Occam’s Razor, especially as paraphrased by modern would-be scientists, and states mainly the following:

   Even though most problems can be reduced and simplified to simpler arguments, especially depending on who frames the debate, it doesn’t mean that they should be; a loss of details is a loss of data, and any decision made that way is a shot in the dark at a solution.  Removing all variables, even the ones we don’t understand {or especially so}, does not make a fair debate, or a simpler decision–it makes no debate, and  it muddies the waters–it makes for poor problem solving. 

TaPL: ok.. and “plastic spork”?

Dave: Ok..its a freaking pithy soundbyte–are you happy?  “When life hands you an issue as complex as a thick 5-bean, potato and vegetable stew, attack it with Occam’s Plastic Spork”

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Or even more plainly stated:

Don’t oversimplify.  Don’t simplify away unknowns or variables.   Don’t reach for a razor, it makes for messy stew eating.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Carol permalink
    November 3, 2011 7:26 pm

    OK – got it……………… Son, there is a lot going on in that head of yours………

  2. Dustin Williams permalink
    December 1, 2011 3:05 pm

    Hehe! “Who the F*** is Occam?!”

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