Occam’s Razor and Newton’s Flaming Laser Sword

It’s well established that in science we can use Occam’s Razor to decide which is the most likely explanation, that between competing hypotheses that one that requires the lowest number of assumptions should be preferred.

Newton’s flaming laser sword is a philosophical razor coined by Mike Alder in an essay entitled “Newton’s Flaming Laser Sword, Or: Why Mathematicians and Scientists don’t like Philosophy but do it anyway” . To summarise the position that “what cannot be settled by experiment is not worth debating”. It was published in Philosophy Now in May/June 2004. The razor is humorously named after Isaac Newton, as it is inspired by Newtonian thought, Mike characterised this sword as being “much sharper and more dangerous than Occam’s Razor”.

Newton's Flaming Laser Sword

Newton’s Flaming Laser Sword

Newton’s flaming laser sword sounds very useful. It slices, it dices… it might be suggested that such a sword could cut away too much, and prevent one from taking a position on politics or religion. That’s not really true, it would prevent one ever being able to make religious explanations or do other special pleading and claim it was science. In the field of politics it may leave one asking for evidence to support particular political judgements. I don’t think those are bad outcomes. Mike Adler suggests that the flaming sword is a useful tool against Platonic philosophers, who may ask one to engage in an older type of game, than the one usually played by modern science and mathematics.

Anyway, this leaves the question, has anyone every seen Occam’s razor or Newton’s Flaming laser sword? I think we need to mount an investigation as to were these useful historical artefacts have been left.

Download a Flaming Laser Sword from the internet archive (PDF)

I think Newton would be a good suggestion for the next Cambridge scientist movie, although some have already been made such as “Isaac Newton the last magician” (2013) and the 2010 movie “The Invention of Calculus”


Quantum Pain

You can see a video of Jim Al-Khalili’s presentation at the Royal Society, were he is discussed the relations between Quantum mechanics and biology. (Does nature use Quantum mechanics — of course).

I thought of a simple demonstration that shows that Quantum mechanics applies to biological specimens, even seemingly complex ones. The example involves the quantum behaviour of pain. If a child falls over and it is being watched by it’s parents then it will feel pain and cry. If no one is watching, there will be no pain and the child will just carry on.

I thought there was a V-sauce on youtube about pain… but I seem to have imagined it.

Here is a TED-X talk Lorimer Moseley (at Adelaide)

Hawking warns about alien contact

Stephen Hawking says although life almost certainly exists elsewhere, we should not attempt to actively initiate contact with extra–terrestrial life forms. As Jared Diamond has pointed out before, historical evidence of encounters between humans, and biological evidence of contacts of different groups of animals, shows it always goes badly for the native population, often resulting in extinction of species, or subjugation and slavery amongst humans.

Unfortunately for us, at least one group is scientists have taken it up on themselves to try to make earth orders of magnitude more visible in the galaxy. Their rational is that all advanced lifeforms (capable of inter-stellar travel) would be altruistic.

A nice discussion of this topic can be read here:

And an editorial in Nature discussed this in 2006:

Godel Truthed.

Godel said:

The Liar Paradox. “Truth” for English sentences is not definable in English.
Proof. Suppose it is. Then so is its complement “False”.
Let s be the sentence “This sentence is false” .
Since the phrase “This sentence” refers to s, we have
s iff “This sentence is false” iff “s is false” iff not s.
A contradiction.

Since the sentence is a contradiction, it is false. So I don’t see any problem, it’s true that the sentence is false, and therefore Truth is not definable in English sentences. At least if you agree False is opposite to Truth in English.