Occam’s razor, attributed to a 14th century philosopher, is a scientist’s most important guiding principle.
This photograph of the stained glass at All Saints Church in Ockham, England, depicts the 14th century friar, philosopher, and theologian William of Ockham. Although he is often paraphrased incorrectly, he did indeed famously state, “It is futile to do with more what can be done with less.”
Credit: public domain
It’s commonly, but inaccurately, paraphrased as, “The simplest explanation is usually best.”
In 2009, this odd, spiral-shaped light show appeared over Norway, frightening many residents and leading to a large number of claims of a UFO sighting. The culprit turned out to be a Russian military missile, which failed upon launch.
Credit: Scanpix Norway/Reuters
But the actual principle isn’t about “simplicity,” but rather making the fewest number of unnecessary assumptions.
The earliest written sentiment that presents the concept of Occam’s razor was put forth by Aristotle, who (in translation) said, “We may assume the superiority, other things being equal, of the demonstration which derives from fewer postulates or hypotheses.”
Credit: Alvaro Marques Hijazo/Wikimedia Commons
originated with Aristotle, who noted the superiority, other things being equal, of using fewer postulates and/or hypotheses.
Isaac Newton made tremendous advances, largely on his own, across many disciplines of physics and mathematics. He revolutionized gravitation, motion, optics, and co-invented calculus. There was no invocation, nor a need to invoke, anything other than the natural laws of physics for all observed phenomena.
Credit: Ulia Koltyrina / Adobe Stock
Isaac Newton famously affirmed this in writing
: I assume no unnecessary hypotheses. hypotheses non fingo
An event like AT2018cow, now known as either FBOTs or Cow-like events, is thought to be the result of a breakout shock from a cocooned supernova. With five such events now discovered, the hunt is on to uncover precisely what causes them, as well as what makes them so unique. “New physics,” which some had theorized, is entirely unnecessary to explain this class of objects.
Credit: Shanghai Astronomical Observatory, China
Yet much of modern science, and modern science news, is focused on wholly unnecessary, ill-motivated new ideas.
Many entanglement-based quantum networks across the world, including networks extending into space, are being developed to leverage the spooky phenomena of quantum teleportation, quantum repeaters and networks, and other practical aspects of quantum entanglement. The quantum state is “cut-and-pasted” from one location to another, but cannot be cloned, copied, or “moved” without destroying the original state. In reality, no information is ever being exchanged faster than light.
Credit: S.A. Hamilton et al., 70th International Astronautical Congress, 2019
Although science beyond the known frontiers is captivating, most new findings have mundane explanations.
Three different types of measurements, distant stars and galaxies, the large-scale structure of the Universe, and the fluctuations in the CMB, tell us the expansion history of the Universe and its composition. Constraints on the total matter content (normal+dark, x-axis) and dark energy density (y-axis) from three independent sources: supernovae, the CMB (cosmic microwave background) and BAO (which is a wiggly feature seen in the correlations of large-scale structure).
Credit: Supernova Cosmology Project, Amanullah et al., ApJ, 2010
What’s already known and established adequately accounts for practically the entire Universe.
On the right, the gauge bosons, which mediate the three fundamental quantum forces of our Universe, are illustrated. There is only one photon to mediate the electromagnetic force, there are three bosons mediating the weak force, and eight mediating the strong force. This suggests that the Standard Model is a combination of three groups: U(1), SU(2), and SU(3), whose interactions and particles combine to make up everything known in existence. With gravity thrown into the mix, there are a total of 26 fundamental constants required to explain our Universe, with four big questions still awaiting explanation.
Credit: Daniel Domingues/CERN
Already in 2023, many extraordinary claims can be shaved away by Occam’s razor.
The different samples of elliptical galaxies and the inferred value of “k” for the various galaxies sampled under the assumptions of the Farrah et al. (2023) group. While they find that k = 3, consistent with a cosmic coupling that affects the expanding Universe in the same way dark energy does, this result is not “99.98%” certain as the raw numbers might have you believe.
Credit: D. Farrah et al., ApJL, 2023
black hole couplings might explain dark energy.
Avi Loeb is already calling these metal spherules “fragments of interstellar meteorite 1,” or IM1 for short. There is no robust evidence indicating that these spherules have an extraterrestrial origin.
Credit: Avi Loeb/Medium Alien technology could be on the seafloor.
The equivalence principle holds that there should be no difference between a gravitational acceleration and an acceleration due to any other force in the Universe. Since one is dependent on the gravitational constant and the other is not, testing the equivalence principle, done most precisely by the MICROSCOPE satellite to 1 part in 10^15, is a way to constrain time variations in the gravitational constant.
Credit: APS/Carin Cain
expanding Universe could be an illusion.
If you allow light to come from outside your environment to inside, you can gain information about the relative velocities and accelerations of the two reference frames. The fact that the laws of physics, the speed of light, and every other observable is independent of your reference frame is strong evidence against the need for an aether.
Credit: Nick Stroebel/Astronomy Notes
An aether could be
permeating all of space.
A portion of a new JWST deep-field image, shown with the Hubble observations as its counterpart. Within the JWST field are a significant number of objects not seen by Hubble, showcasing JWST’s ability to reveal what Hubble could not, thanks predominantly to its longer-wavelength capabilities. Based on Hubble observations of the full boxed-in region (only partially visible here), a total of 5500 galaxies were found in a region of sky just 1/32,000,000th of the entire sky. However, this is estimated to be just a tiny fraction of the total number of galaxies out there, most of which are too faint and small to be seen by either Hubble or JWST.
Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Christina Williams (NSF’s NOIRLab), Sandro Tacchella (Cambridge), Michael Maseda (UW-Madison); Processing: Joseph DePasquale (STScI); Animation: E. Siegel JWST has delivered cosmic surprises.
The particle content of the hypothetical grand unified group SU(5), which contains the entirety of the Standard Model plus additional particles. In particular, there are a series of (necessarily superheavy) bosons, labeled “X” in this diagram, that contain both properties of quarks and leptons, together, and would cause the proton to be fundamentally unstable. Their absence, and the proton’s observed stability, provide strong evidence against the validity of this theory in a scientific sense.
Credit: Cjean42/Wikimedia Commons Theories of everything remain popular.
This map shows a color-coded “heat” indicator of the number of reported UFO sightings throughout the continental United States, with various cities and locations-of-interest noted. Overall, the number of sightings track very well with population density.
Credit: Esri, HERE, Garmin, USGS, EPA
UFO sightings remain unexplained.
Touted as UFO lights, this 2011 photograph over Liverpool does, in fact, document a series of lights in an oddly unnatural-appearing configuration, but this is by no means compelling evidence for aliens. In fact, it’s simply an image looking up at the lights of Radio City Tower, which does not constitute scientific evidence for UFOs.
Credit: dreese/Wikimedia Commons
But none of the evidence requires aliens, new physics, or
overthrowing our current theories.
The Standard Model particles and their supersymmetric counterparts. Slightly under 50% of these particles have been discovered, and just over 50% have never shown a trace that they exist. Supersymmetry is an idea that hopes to improve on the Standard Model, but it has yet to achieve the all-important ‘step 3’ in the three steps for supplanting the prevailing scientific theory: having its new predictions borne out by experiment.
Credit: Claire David
What’s already scientifically established sufficiently explains practically everything.
This graph shows the 1550 supernovae that are a part of the Pantheon+ analysis, plotted as a function of magnitude versus redshift. The supernova data, for many decades now, has pointed toward a Universe that expands in a particular fashion that requires something beyond matter, radiation, and/or spatial curvature: a new form of energy that drives the expansion, known as dark energy. The supernovae all fall along the line that our standard cosmological model predicts, with even the highest-redshift, most far-flung type Ia supernovae adhering to this simple relation.
Credit: D. Brout et al./Pantheon+, ApJ submitted, 2022
Mostly Mute Monday tells a scientific story in images, visuals, and no more than 200 words.