- A student who had just taken a first year introduction-to-science subject was chatting about what they had learned. I happened to mention Occam's razor. They said "What's that?" It hadn't been mentioned, and was obviously nothing to do with the scientific method.
- I point out to my psychiatrist that he has a magazine advocating homeopathy in his waiting room. His response is basically "So? What's wrong with that?"
- A left wing activist writes me an email full of pollysyllabilic words. I gradually realize he can't understand thought experiments and simple models, the universe is such a very complex place and simple models are therefore useless. Somewhere along the line, without realizing, he's also lost the concepts of cooperation and altruism.
- I know quite a few people who believe in psychic powers, or chi engergy, or the three who are one, or somesuch. Smart, interesting people. Good friends.
- Joel talks about architecture astronauts. Almost every programmer is an architecture astronaut.
I'd just like to say: hehe, good one guys. Ok, you can stop it now. Nice joke. Stop it, ok. Stop it, you're scaring me here. Look, i'm meant to be the insane one here, why is everyone else off in their own little fantasy world. It's like we've lost the foundations our whole technological civilization was built on. We can survive with our current cargo cult science... for a little while.
The fundamental that we've lost is Occam's razor, which can be gotten at many different ways:
- Don't multiply entities beyond necessity.
- Write short sentences. Use simple words.
- Use models that are as simple as possible, but no simpler.
- The worth of a model can be measured by its ability to compress data (including the number of bits to state the model).
- The simplest theory that explains all the facts is the most likely.
- A set of data is random if there is not shorter way to express it than simply writing it down bit by bit.
My favourite has to be Pooh's version:
- I am a bear of very little brain, and long words bother me.
Got it? There is a fundamental, objective reality out there which we're all a part of. We don't know quite what it is, but if we forget it's out there, it will bite us in the ass in a very real and fatal way. The universe has it's own agenda, it isn't going to play along. It doesn't matter how much hot air people spout, how many serious papers they publish, how many exciting new words they invent, how many megabytes of bytecode interpreter library functional next-generation XML RPC exchange tunnelling protocol they wrap about HTTP/TCP/IP. For the most part, it all comes to absolutely nothing.
Once in a while someone comes along and says, well actually there's a simple trick and then it's really quite easy. And people look around in confusion for a while. And then it starts up again. Great! Lets wrap it in a library! Does it use XML? Here's a 1000 page document describing the next great leap forward in human evolution. And so on, and so forth.