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”