Occam's Razor Cuts Up

Occam's Razor is a general principle in philosophy and science which argues for simplicity. Amusingly, its history is not precisely simple. Despite what it's name might suggest, it was not invented by Occam, and appears to have been changed and adapted through time into numerous variations. This basic principle can be stated in a number of ways, such as "pluralities ought not be supposed without necessity" (Wikipedia, 2004), or Einstein's formation, which suggested "The supreme goal of all theory is to make the irreducible basic elements as simple and as few as possible without having to surrender the adequate representation of a single datum of experience." (Wikipedia, 2004) Another important aspect of the theory, as it generally is used, is that of ignoring seemingly odd or unlikely explanations if a more appealing one is present: "Occam's razor... states that we should always take the simplest possible path and ignore more clumsy alternatives, especially if the alternatives can never be measured." (Kaku, 263) However, this theory is generally represented to and by the public as the "principal of always preferring the simplest explanation of events to any other." (Easton, 2002) This multitude of phrasings is significant because it allows for some debate as to the proper application of Occam's Razor. (of course, many people have also argued that this approach is generally simplistic to a fault and that often complicated explanations are more accurate than those which only consider a limited number of factors.) for example, the chemistry behind combustion is far more complex than the mere assertation that all objects contain a certain amount of fire that is released under specificed heat and friction conditions. Occam's razor could theoretically be used to discount the more atomic theories of combustion (having to do with energy shells, states, anf so forth)... yet instead it has historically been used in defense of whatever seem most natural (even if more complicated) and least metaphorical. At any rate, the way in which application of Occam's Razor could result in multiple theoretical claims is very relevant to its application to common "alternative history" or "conspiracy" theories. It is a common belief among certain segments of the population that a variety of unrecorded or unexpected events have happened in the past, such as the visiting of the earth by alien life forms or that man's visit to the moon was a hoax. Many people attempt to apply Occam's Razor to these theories as a form of discounting them, claiming (for instance) that the moon landing being a hoax is a far more complicated explanation than the actual landing would be. Yet the actual application of this method of evaluation to these puzzles is more complicated than one might think at first glance, and is very much caught up in one's definition both of Occam's Razor, and of such terms as "simple," or "pluralities."

The easiest place to see this difficulty of translation is with the issue of whether, at some point in the past, intelligent life-forms have landed on earth. On the surface, the application of Occam's Razor would seem to make alien visitation a poor belief, because history can be explained without an alien presence, and therefore their introduction into the narrative is nothing more or less than the an unneccessary hypothesis which should be stricken. Alien intervention seems very complicated, and should therefore be discounted. However, if one takes a closer look at the arguments for an alien visit, one might argue quiet the opposite -- that alien or supernatural intervention of some unknown sort is actually the simplest explanation for a variety of events. The pyramids and legends that exist across the world form the basis for this argument. Pyramids with nearly identical properties are found across the world. "A... global influence clearly existed... As evidence d by the remarkable siliarities between ancient Mayan and Egyptian cultures." (Marrs, 81) Both Central American and Egyptian legends report that gods from the sky came and guided the development of these structures and established other cultural patterns. As the Egyptians say, "These pyramids are [part of] Osiris... [the deity and first king associated with Orion]" (Marrs, 79) Additionally, there are apparently closely related pyramids as far away as China, "The Chinese pyramids astonishingly resemble the pyramids in the Central America...The pyramids belonged to the epoch when China was ruled by ancient emperors who believed in the existence of extraterrestrial civilizations. Moreover, the emperors themselves insisted that they were ancestors... Of the sons of the sky, who had landed the Earth on iron dragons." (Pravda.ru, 1999) Additionally, these pyramids tend to have unusual characteristics which are entirely out sync with our understanding of history. For example, the Great Pyramid in Egypt has some very interesting qualities:

Each of its four sides precisely face the four points of the compass... The height of the Great Pyramid is proportional to the radius of the earth and the perimeter to the circumfrence. Measurements of the two base halves [are] the exact number of days it takes for the eath to complete its orbit of the sun... The Great pyramid [is]...an architectural symbol for the planet Earth itself... The pyramid accurately sections the entire planet into a three-dimenstion grid...utilizing [this]...any aircraft can successfully navigate from the pyramid to any location on Earth... [patterns] indicate ancient flight paths." (Marrs, 75-78)

Other qualities of the pyramids are equally odd. For example, something about the Great Pyramid has mad it so that it alters readings on cosmic ray interpretters. Archeologists attempting to use cosmic rays to discover hidden passages found that "nothing worked properly...The equipment was rechecked. It worked fine except within the pyramid." (Marrs, 80) This indicates that the builders included scientific barriers to exploration far beyond what could have been known at the time.

So what is the simplest solution? Is it simple to believe many millenia before Einstien or Galileo there once existed a global civilization spanning three continents and possessing advanced scientific understanding which enabled them to accurately calculate distance from the sun, planetary movement, magnetism, and global navigation... And that this massive culture vanished with no trace of their science or culture left other than a few buildings and similiarities between mythologies? Even if such a culture had existed, why is there no evidence of stone quarrying, tree cutting, or other population relics from the building of the pyramids? Is it possibly more simple to believe that these are the relics of a civilization that was not primarily located on earth? One might say that the theory of extra-terrestrial societies is more complicated than just assuming an earthly origin... But the complication could be dismissed if the extra-terrestrials were possibly spiritual/energy beings of very limited numbers, or if one noticed that postulating an entire disappeared advanced earth civilization was just as complicated as postulating an extra-terrestrial advanced civilization. The tendency to think that the E.T. explanation is simpler becomes even more appealing if one compares the pyramids in Egypt with structures found on Mars... So Occam's Razor may not actually be helpful in this case, unless one wishes to choose an explanation that is simple, if implausible: that all the similarities between these global buildings were entirely coincidental, that all the scientific measurements are coincidence, and all the mythological similarities are coincidence. Other than this simple implausibility, the other two answers may be equally complex and involve an equal number of entities of terrestrial or extra-terrestrial nature. (in fact, a truly simple solution might be that just one being... namely, God or Satan or some other deity, put all the pyramids there to enlighten or confuse people. That requires only one entity to explain their unlikely appearance, as opposed to the presence of thousands)

So perhaps Occam's Razor cannot solve the pyramids. Can it solve the moon hoax? Just as one could say that aliens is the simplest solution to the pyramids, one might argue that having a handful of NASA experts faking the moon landing would be simpler than having to create a working spaceship and moon trip. After all, getting into orbit is simpler than getting to the moon, and doing a photoshoot in Houston is easier than doing a photo shoot on the lunar surface. The conspiracy needed to cover up not actually being on the moon would be relatively simple (possibly involving only the astronauts, the movie crew, and a small handful of NASA workers to perpetuate the hoax both on their fellow workers, most branches of the government, and the public at large), and could be sustained for a reasonable budget. The team-work needed to figure out how to land on and survive on the moon would no doubt be much more difficult to arrange. However, if one looks at the particular claims which hoax-advocates bring up, they do not generally seem to be truly appealing to simplicity. For example, one common complaint is that the flag on the moon is waving in the absence of air. (Cosnette, 2003) it might…