All things being equal: the most simplistic explanation is the one most likely to be believed.
Okay. This is gonna be nuts.
I am going to prove the principle of Hokum’s Razor to you. And weirdly enough, there’s no better example of it than the word itself.
Stick with me, k?
Hokum’s Razor is a verbal riff on two things:
First – the word “hokum” which is a fun way of saying “nonsense.”
And Second – Occam’s Razor – the 14th century philosophical precept which most of us think means something like this:
“All things being equal, the simplest explanation tends to be the right one.”
Here’s the thing: That’s not what Occam’s Razor says.
It’s actually a line from the movie “Contact,” and is a slightly fancified way of putting this generally held scientific principle:
“When there are two competing explanations for an event, the simpler one is more likely.”
Unfortunately, this principle also is not Occam’s Razor. It’s actually another simplification of an entirely different statement:
“We are to admit no more causes of natural things than such as are both true and sufficient to explain their appearances.”
This… also… is not Occam’s Razor. William of Ockham didn’t write that statement. Isaac Newton did. In his own reinterpretation of Occam’s Razor. Even friggin Newton wanted a chance at rewriting the goddamn thing.
So… what the hell is Occam’s Razor? Naturally, there are several different statements that scholars say are William of Ockham’s words. And, surprise surprise… they’re all in Latin.
I’m gonna give you my favorite one. Not that I read Latin. I don’t. It’s just the most impressive-sounding one. It it is:
“Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem”
Translated into English, this means – and I’m not kidding:
“Entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily.“
Like, really. That’s what it means in English. Don’t complicate shit… As if he knew people were going to spend centuries quoting and misquoting him.
Please join me as I soak in this perfect, bonkers irony.
As I was saying…
Do you see how I inadvertently proved my own point? I didn’t do this on purpose – I realized it after the fact.
I could have based the definition to Hokum’s Razor on that statement… on Occam’s actual Razor… but I didn’t. Because that statement (despite its precise language) is actually far more complicated a thought than Contact’s definition – “All things being equal, the simplest explanation tends to be the right one.”
Occam’s Razor is too tough an idea. Too unforgiving. It’s a precept often used by physicists to strip away faff, metaphysical irrelevancies – as strict and as serious as a carpenter’s rasp.
It’s too complicated.
I’m not smart enough to really understand it.
So I chose the simpler one.
And this… I think… is why we’re fucked.
We’re fucked because I’m dumb. And because I’m right.
When faced with a complex set of circumstances… most people will choose to believe whatever’s easiest to understand. Because the vast majority of us just don’t have the time for nuance. True complexity makes us itch. Even the moderately educated, and reasonably intelligent among us (hello!) don’t want to dedicate ourselves to the mastery of a concept.
We’re happy just to fudge it.
And that, I’m sorry to say, is why Donald Trump was destined to be our president.
Because on the one hand we had Hillary Clinton who (despite it all) is a sober-minded, dedicated policy machine. She’s a seasoned states-person, and a strict rationalist who understands and thrives on the complexities of the issues facing this country and the world at large.
And then there’s Donald Trump. He promised to, “Make America Great Again.”
Just as Bush distorted, packaged, and sold the War on Terror… because, “They hate us for our freedom.”
Just as religions elide their inconsistencies… because, “God works in mysterious ways.”
Just as the NRA will continue to obstruct gun restrictions… because, “the only thing to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”
Because the world is way too much to think about… and questions keep us up at night.
Because ignorance truly is bliss.