How can an arrow continue to fly through the air after leaving the bow? Does the movement of the arrow work with the strokes of the angel’s wing until it runs out? Or did the arrow receive a pulse – velocity in a certain direction – from the stretched string?
The second explanation is more likely, even if you didn’t pay close attention in physics class. If there are several ways to explain a phenomenon or measurement, the simplest explanation, making the fewest (unproven) assumptions is likely to be correct.
This principle, which scientists apply regularly, is known as Occam’s razor. It is named after William van Ockham, a Franciscan monk who lived in England in the late 13th and early 14th centuries. He wasn’t the first to apply this principle, but his approach to medieval philosophy and established “gods” was so strict that he became notorious and was even accused of inciting heresy.
life is simple It is a tribute from British quantum biologist Johnjoe McFadden to Ockham and his code. The book is densely packed with information. It does not only describe Occam’s life and the relationship between religion and science at the time. McFadden also shows how Occam’s razor principle has played a role in refining scientific theories for centuries. From Copernicus’ view of heliocentrism to Darwin’s theory of evolution and Einstein’s theory of relativity. McFadden describes how these scientific advances came about with Occam’s blade in hand.
For this, McFadden takes you through major scientific discoveries: from the Leyden electric jar, to DNA and quantum mechanics. All topics are explained in a compact way, with some helpful illustrations. However, it turns out that the search for “the simplest explanation with the fewest assumptions” can lead to surprisingly complex theories.
A version of this article also appeared in NRC Handelsblad on April 2, 2022
A version of this article also appeared on NRC on the morning of April 2, 2022
“Twitter junkie. Lifelong communicator. Award-winning analyst. Subtly charming internetaholic.”