Ockham’s razor in different fields

Someone participating in an ongoing exchange within a public newsgroup made the following observation which I believe is very pertinent to areas I work in as well:

Ockham’s razor was a terrible heuristic for planetary science for about 1500 years, not with respect to replicating the position of the planets in the night sky (big data ‘prediction’ problem as it would currently be called now) but instead as a model to actually understand planetary motion, which became the foundation for mechanics and modern physics.

It would perhaps be considered unfashionable to knock Ockham in today’s age of data-driven science, but I think that reaction only arises from an underestimation of how valuable a good theory is. Throughout graduate school I was just in awe of concepts like the variational formulation of mechanics which were not only the very foundations of physics but also slowly crept under to provide the foundation for the most efficient methods for data-driven inference in graphical models and so on! It would be a real shame if researchers interested in intelligence, be it AI or neuroscience, gave up on the search for these principles…


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