Explanations of a few Razors, Rules, Laws, and Wibble

Who was the author of Ockham's Razor? (The spelling of Ockham is often changed to Occam)

William of Ockham, a Franciscan, was born around 1290 in Surrey, and died in Munich. He studied at Oxford University and wrote extensively on the theological and philosophical issues of the time. By the principle later known as 'Ockham's Razor,' he insisted that 'what can be done with fewer.... is done in vain with more'; the mind should not multiply things without necessity, an extension of 'Franciscan'.

Denounced as a heretic to Pope John XXII, he was summoned to Avignon in 1324 where he got into further hot water and entirely rejected the secular authority of the papacy. William fled to the service of the Emperor Louis of Bavaria in 1328, almost certainly dying of the plague that ravaged Europe in 1349.

What is Ockham's Razor?

Ockham's Razor is the principle proposed by William of Ockham in the fourteenth century: 'Pluralitas non est ponenda sine neccesitate', which translates as 'Entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily'.

The reason behind the razor is that for any given set of facts there are an infinite number of theories that could explain them. For instance, one can explain the motion of the planets by Newton's theory or by the theory that each celestial body has a computer-controlled motor which makes it move the way it does; the computer code was generated by an advanced alien race which chose the motions of the planets because they look nice. The first theory has one explanation for the data, the second requires a new explanation (a different kind of motor and a different computer code) for each new celestial body we see.

The above example is too obvious. It sometimes happens that the simple theory is very difficult to discover. It took a long time for us to realize that the Earth is not the center of the universe.

The Razor doesn't tell us whether a hypothesis is true or false, it rather tells us which one to test first. The simpler the hypothesis, the easier it is to shoot down.

A related rule, which can be used to slice open conspiracy theories, is Hanlon's Razor: "Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity".

Hanlon's Razor

A corollary of Finagle's Law, similar to Occam's Razor, that reads "Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity." The derivation of the Hanlon eponym is not definitely known, but a very similar remark ("You have attributed conditions to villainy that simply result from stupidity.") appears in "Logic of Empire", a classic 1941 SF story by Robert A. Heinlein, who calls it the `devil theory' of sociology. Heinlein's popularity in the hacker culture makes plausible the supposition that `Hanlon' is derived from `Heinlein' by phonetic corruption. A similar epigram has been attributed to William James, but Heinlein more probably got the idea from Alfred Korzybski and other practitioners of General Semantics. Quoted here because it seems to be a particular favorite of hackers, often showing up in sig blocks, fortune cookie files and the login banners of BBS systems and commercial networks. This probably reflects the hacker's daily experience of environments created by well-intentioned but short-sighted people. Compare Sturgeon's Law, and the Ninety-Ninety Rule.

Sturgeon's law

"Ninety percent of everything is crap". Derived from a quote by science fiction author Theodore Sturgeon, who once said, "Sure, 90% of science fiction is crud. That's because 90% of everything is crud." Oddly, when Sturgeon's Law is cited, the final word is almost invariably changed to `crap'. Compare Hanlon's Razor, Ninety-Ninety Rule. Though this maxim originated in SF fandom, most hackers recognize it and are all too aware of its truth.

Ninety-Ninety Rule

"The first 90% of the code accounts for the first 90% of the development time. The remaining 10% of the code accounts for the other 90% of the development time." Attributed to Tom Cargill of Bell Labs, and popularized by Jon Bentley's September 1985 "Bumper-Sticker Computer Science" column in "Communications of the ACM". It was there called the "Rule of Credibility", a name which seems not to have stuck. Other maxims in the same vein include the law attributed to the early British computer scientist Douglas Hartree: "The time from now until the completion of the project tends to become constant."

Finagle's Law

The generalized or `folk' version of Murphy's Law, fully named "Finagle's Law of Dynamic Negatives" and usually rendered "Anything that can go wrong, will". One variant favored among hackers is "The perversity of the Universe tends towards a maximum" (but see also Hanlon's Razor). The label `Finagle's Law' was popularized by SF author Larry Niven in several stories depicting a frontier culture of asteroid miners; this `Belter' culture professed a religion and/or running joke involving the worship of the dread god Finagle and his mad prophet Murphy. Some technical and scientific cultures (e.g., paleontologists) know it under the name `Sod's Law'; this usage may be more common in Great Britain. Compare Ockham's Razor, Hanlon's Razor, Finagle's Law, Sturgeon's Law, and the Ninety-Ninety Rule

[UK] 1. n.,v. Commonly used to describe chatter, content-free remarks or other essentially meaningless contributions to threads in newsgroups. "Oh, rspence is wibbling again". 2. [UK IRC] An explicit on-line no-op equivalent to humma. 3. One of the preferred metasyntactic variables in the UK, forming a series with wobble, wubble, and flob (attributed to the hilarious historical comedy "Blackadder"). 4. A pronounciation of the letters "www", as seen in URLs; i.e., www.{foo}.com may be pronounced "wibble dot foo dot com".

For more info: http://phyun5.ucr.edu/~wudka/Physics7/Notes_www/node10.html

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