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Thread: Lord Kelvin and Occam's Razor

  1. #1 Lord Kelvin and Occam's Razor 
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    I've placed this thread in Earth Science because my example is drawn from Earth Science, but it really applies to any and all disciplines that invoke Occam's razor to favour one hypothesis over another.

    Lord Kelvin calculated a maximum age for the Earth as between 20 million and 100 million years. This was substantially less than the age envisaged by geologists such as Hutton, or Lyell, or as required by Darwin and Wallace if evolution were to be true.

    I suggest that implicit in Lord Kelvin's position was an application of Occam's razor: the simplest determination of the age of the Earth (that limits the multiplication of hypotheses) is that it of the age determined by simple computation based on heat loss. initial temperature and current temperature.

    As we now know his calculation was faulty for several reasons, most notably ignorance of radioactive heating, though he demonstrated the principle of using physics to provide the answer.I would argue that too often, at least in arguments I have seen in science forums, Occam's razor is used as an absolute rule, rather than a useful guideline. I am interested in counter arguments.


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  3. #2  
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    Just from observation ,I hadn't noticed it was being used here or elsewhere in an overbearing way.(I have never used it personally but have always appreciated that is was not a deciding argument and to be taken in context)

    Have you any examples where it has been used in the way you say?


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    I suggest that this is more suited to the philosophy sub-forum (your reason notwithstanding) since it's about an "approach" to evidence.
    Moved.
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  5. #4  
    ox
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    Don't like Occam's Razor as it can just add to the confusion.

    https://philosophynow.org/issues/115..._Razor_and_God
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  6. #5  
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    I think Ockham's razor aids the efficiency of the scientific method. It is easier to understand and verify or disprove simple models before resorting to greater complexity.

    Ockham's razor is a valuable argument against untested hypotheses. Suppose I said that radioactive heating had in turn been engineered by an invisible Sun god.
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  7. #6  
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    Quote Originally Posted by Melancholy Tim View Post
    I've placed this thread in Earth Science because my example is drawn from Earth Science, but it really applies to any and all disciplines that invoke Occam's razor to favour one hypothesis over another.

    Lord Kelvin calculated a maximum age for the Earth as between 20 million and 100 million years. This was substantially less than the age envisaged by geologists such as Hutton, or Lyell, or as required by Darwin and Wallace if evolution were to be true.

    I suggest that implicit in Lord Kelvin's position was an application of Occam's razor: the simplest determination of the age of the Earth (that limits the multiplication of hypotheses) is that it of the age determined by simple computation based on heat loss. initial temperature and current temperature.

    As we now know his calculation was faulty for several reasons, most notably ignorance of radioactive heating, though he demonstrated the principle of using physics to provide the answer.I would argue that too often, at least in arguments I have seen in science forums, Occam's razor is used as an absolute rule, rather than a useful guideline. I am interested in counter arguments.
    Sorry to be late responding to this.

    I think you may possibly be misunderstanding what Ockham's Razor actually says. It does not say that the simplest explanation is to be preferred. It says, in the best known version: Non sunt multiplicanda entia sine necessitate, viz. that one should not unnecessarily multiply entities. This qualification is crucial. It means in effect that the simplest explanation consistent with the observations is to be preferred.

    In your example it is clear that Kelvin's model failed to account for some of the observed facts and was thus rejected. But it was quite reasonable for him to attempt a simple model first. In fact, the failure of a simple heat loss model pointed, as you say, to the need to consider balancing heat generation mechanisms and thus advanced scientific understanding. Science often works like this: starting with a simple model and then elaborating it when required to by further evidence.
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