Keep it simple, silly!

We discovered the Law of Parsimony together and ventured further into Systematics (its a pity Systems Biology isn't getting introduced next sem..), so anyway, Divya, this one is for you.

And for all the others, yes, surprise surprise! I'm here to talk about philosophy, logic or the word that matters to you most  - study - yes, I'm here to talk about something related to studies. For a change..

William of Ockham

William of Ockham (or Occam, as I've always known..) was an English Franciscan philosopher - a friar - who is believed to have been born in Ockham, a small village in Surrey. He is considered to be one of the major figures of medieval thought and was at the centre of the major intellectual and political controversies of the 14th century. He is believed to have given a particular form of philosophy or principle which is widely used in logic/physics/theology and as we've seen, in biology/medicine too. It is often summarized as -
'Other things being equal, a simpler explanation is better than a more complex one.'
Before and after him, there have been similar proposals from established philosophers such as Aristotle and Ptolemy who had stated 'We considered it a good principle to explain a phenomenon by the simplest explanation.' and Nobel laureate Bertrand Russell has said something on the same lines. Even Ranbir Kapoor in his DOCOMO advertisements has propogated the KISS principle (articulated by Kelly Johnson, the acronym stands for 'Keep It Simple, Silly!') which is also a morphed version of Occam's razor.

Occam's Razor (Latin lex parsimoniae) is the Law of parsimony, economics or succintness and it urges one to select among competing hypotheses the one that makes the least assumptions and yet offers the simplest explanation of the effect.

Why razor? The German term, 'Okham's Messer' translates to 'Ockham's knife' refers to the 'shaving off' or 'cutting away' unnecessary assumptions and selecting the simplest explanation as long as it stands true.

Use in Science

For stating the obvious, Occam's razor is used as a heuristic or a commonsense rule intended to increase the probability of solving some problem or a general formulation that serves to guide an investigation. It is supposed to be an important rule in the formulation of the theory of special relativity by Albert Einstein, the development of quantum mechanics by Ludwig Boltzmann, Max Planck, Heisenberg, de Broglie (bas, naam hi kaafi hai, kyun..?). In chemistry, it is an important heuristic in developing a model of a chemical reaction mechanism.

But there are obvious failures of this principle. Though it acts as a good heuristic, it is however, not the most reliable option. It has been shown to fail as a criterion for selecting among selected established, published models.

Einstein had himself cautioned while he formulated Einstein's Constraint, 'Everything should be kept as simple as possible, but no simpler.' In my opinion, one can instead focus on the word 'Optimum' over 'Simple' right? What appears simple here, maybe it involves a complex by-pass in another parallel process, thus complicating the system on the whole.

In the scientific method, parsimony is an metaphysical or heuristic preference, not an irrefutable principle of logic and certainly not a scientific result! In another instance, classical physics is way simpler than more recent theories; nonetheless it cannot be preferred over them, because it is demonstratively wrong in certain aspect.


The philosophers of biology use Occam's razor in two contexts, both in evolutionary biology:

1) the units of Selection Controversy
2) and Systematics.

George C. Williams in his book Adaptation and Natural Selection (1966) argues that the best way to explain 'altruism' among animals is based on low level selection (i.e. individual) as opposed to high level group selection. Altruism, as you know, is the behavior that is beneficial to the group but not to the individual, and group selection is thought by some to be the evolutionary mechanism that selects for altruistic traits. Others state individual selection as the mechanism which explains altruism solely in terms of the behaviors of individual organisms acting in their own self interest without regard to the group.

The basis for Williams's contention is that of the two, individual selection is the more parsimonious theory. In doing so he is invoking a variant of Occam's razor known as Lloyd Morgan's Canon: 'In no case is an animal activity to be interpreted in terms of higher psychological processes, if it can be fairly interpreted in terms of processes which stand lower in the scale of psychological evolution and development.'

However, more recent biological analyses, such as Richard Dawkins's The Selfish Gene (the book I had told you about, alongside Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters), have contended that Williams's view is not the simplest and most basic. Dawkins argues the way evolution works is that the genes that are propagated in most copies will end up determining the development of that particular species, i.e., natural selection turns out to select specific genes, and this is really the fundamental underlying principle, that automatically gives individual and group selection as emergent features of evolution.

Zoology provides excellent examples. Certain animals including SOME humans, when threatened by wolves, will form a circle with the males on the outside and the females and young on the inside. This as an example of a behavior by the males that seems to be altruistic. The behavior is disadvantageous to them individually but beneficial to the group as a whole and was thus seen by some to support the group selection theory.

And you're aware of Systematics, the branch of biology that attempts to establish genealogical relationships among organisms. Also, it is concerned with their classification. The three primary camps in systematics are cladists, pheneticists, and evolutionary taxonomists. Remember we constructed phylogenetic trees based on the method of Maximum Parsimony which states that - the tree with the minimum number of trees should always be chosen (Felsenstein 1988).

Now you know Francis Crick, of course.. He has commented on potential limitations of Occam's razor in biology. He advances the argument that because biological systems are the products of (an on-going) natural selection, the mechanisms are not necessarily optimal in an obvious sense. He cautions that 'While Ockham's razor is a useful tool in the physical sciences, it can be a very dangerous implement in biology. It is thus very rash to use simplicity and elegance as a guide in biological research.'


Mind you, this does not hold true for Dr. Gregory House M.D.

When discussing Occam's razor in contemporary medicine, doctors and philosophers of medicine speak of diagnostic parsimony. Diagnostic parsimony advocates that when diagnosing a given injury, ailment, illness, or disease a doctor should strive to look for the fewest possible causes that will account for all the symptoms. This philosophy is one of several demonstrated in the popular medical proverb 'when you are in Texas and you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras.' While diagnostic parsimony might often be beneficial, credence should also be given to the counter-argument modernly known as Hickam's dictum, which succinctly states that 'patients can have as many diseases as they damn well please.'


Guess, where does it apply when put to use in establishing the existence of God?

In the philosophy of religion, Occam's razor is sometimes applied to the existence of God; if the concept of a God does not help to explain the universe better, then the idea is that atheism should be preferred. Some such arguments are based on the assertion that belief in God requires more complex assumptions to explain the universe than non-belief. On the other hand, there are various arguments in favor of a God which attempt to establish a God as a useful explanation.

These guys will do anything to get their things right! Damn you Occam's razor, you could've been maybe, a little more plausible at times..?

An important thing to note here, will be to know that William of Ockham, being a Friar, was himself a theist - he believed in the existance of God and thus, in the validity of scripturess..

At last, Controversies and Anti-razors

Galileo Galilei lampooned the misuse of Occam's razor in Dialogue. The principle is represented in the dialogue by Simplicio. The telling point that Galileo presented ironically was that if you really wanted to start from a small number of entities, you could always consider the letters of the alphabet as the fundamental entities, since you could certainly construct the whole of human knowledge out of them.

Anti-razors have also been created by Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (Divya, rings a bell..? Something about the internship/training we did?). Leibniz's version took the form of a principle of plenitude, the idea being that God created the most varied and populous of possible worlds.

'The variety of beings should not rashly be diminished.'

Happy Bong Nabo Barsho people!

Aah! PEACE!! The entire hullabaloo about the Bong New Year has come to an end at last..

The one good thing about it will have to be my swift retreat to 'my-kind-of-music!' - Poets of the Fall, Chris Cornell and Beatles ruled my Tuesday. Trying to get Fossils out of my head ASAP as I just cannot stand the weirdness that Rupam Islam bestows upon the contemporary Bong population. However, some songs are indeed good, if sung normally, like the one we performed - Hasnuhana - Oh! and how the people danced and hooted for us.. \m/

The event was great, considering the general audience liked it. However we, being the organizers, know the various faces of it and whom we'd like to skin alive and whom we'd like to ask out for free lunch and stuffs along the same lines..

At one such moment when I was fuming at somebody who maybe didn't even matter on the entirety, a small blitz of yellow ran past me, thus spilling my Juice on me (that for some reason I had decided to hold on to this second helping, instead of finishing it off). She was the daughter of one of the members of the faculty. A very little one, with all her milk teeth flashing out in glee..

She recited a poetry on stage at one of our show transition moments - perhaps the most famous rhymes of a Bong childhood, 'Baapuram-Shapure' - I dunno if you call it recitation, but she gulped 6 times in between, said 'umm' 10 times, twitched, smiled, laughed, giggled and danced along her way to completion. She acted like a total celebrity and bagged away the maximum applause. Sweet.

Until, she came down strutting like a celeb, and walked up to me. She had to look up at me, for I'd be more than twice her height. Then she asked, 'Bhalo bolechi, toh?' Was I any good? I said, 'of course, you were the best!!' And that's when she collected her ultimate prize - the Juice box I was holding- the first one.. She took it swiftly and ran off to her mummy, grinning and nearly tripping over about 10 times on her way.

Why, you little!!

Also, I had my eyes for her the rest of the night. And caught her doing something many of us wouldn't even think of trying. Whenever she would pass the Chancellor sir, she'd go, stand at a distance and extend her hand to demand a shake. She would call after him, 'Hey! Hey you!!' Yes, my eyes were absolute circle at this scene - girl's got guts! And she did this about 4 times as I saw her, dunno how many times when I didn't see. The Chancellor sir was charming enough obliging to the little lady's advances.

We, the guitarists - Maitreya, Abir and Myself - Photo courtesy: Snehajyoti Saha

Kuntal Acharya, my fellow coordinator, Photo Courtesy: Snehajyoti Saha

Gracefully gifted, Sohini - Photo Courtesy - Arkayan Samaddar

Reshmi and Me, the cultural coordinators, musing - Photo Courtesy - Arkayan Samaddar

Maitreya, Iman, Kuntal and Sohini, after the event - Photo Courtesy - Snehajyoti Saha

That's me, posing it up, trying to hide the tension of the entire thing, with Ady and Panchali - the guest welcome-ers!! Photo Courtesy - Snehajyoti Saha 

Oh, and one more little guy had fun yesterday - son of our faculty coordinator. He was sitting beside our
adopted-Bangali bhai, Nikunj, which was also the seat behind the Chancellor sir..

Nikunj caught the young introverted guy put his leg up - upon the behind of the Chancellor's seat! - Nikunj's eyes went full moon this time but he just stared at the kid. After sometime, the kid stared back with an 'Ishan-Nandakishore-Awasthi-look' and snapped back, 'Ki hoyeche?' 'What you starin' at!! (kinda..)'

'That's the Chancellor, kid!' said Nikunj.
'I know..' snapped back the kid, and then he put his leg down..

However, apparently it didn't provide enough comfort and he resumed his original posture soon enough. KIDS!! What'd we do without you..

A very 'Shubho Nabo Barsho' to my Bong readers.. and for the others, I'll be back, Schwarzenegger-style!! Till, next time.. tataazzz!!

Amake Amar Moto Thakte Dao

What the title means - Amake Amar Moto Thakte Dao (Let Me Be My Way) is a song from the film Autograph which released in September 2010. The film re-wrote box office history in Bengali cinema. But what lasted longer than the film itself, is this song, that has become synonymous with our generation, which is crying to be left alone, seeking its own little space in this claustrophobic world..

This is, however, a picture of what is in my mind right now..

Here's a video, the image of which is an impressionist painting by the famous French artist, Claude Monet, TRYING HARD to go with the song, that the video is about - Majhi re from Bong Connection.

This is a sample of the practice that we're putting up for the 16th April Poila Baisakh celebrations in our college - or this is just the after-hours happenings of the actual practice!! Abir on guitar, Ayan on vocals and me - on drums (for the very first time, which is much understandable, once you listen to it..)

Needless to mention, but I've been very busy lately, and YES! I know I've been saying that a lot, off late.. but here's the reason - apart from all the projects, conferences, and classes (to which I've apparently forgotten the way from hostel..) I'm among the chief organizers for the Bengali New Year Celebrations in our college this year.. 'Poila Baisakh 1419' as we're calling it.. Every time its about 'oh my god, just a few more days to go and we're not yet started!!' This time however, we took careful consideration and started early, that is about a month ago..

And here we are! Nearly 10 days left as we're there again - 'OMG! It's here! And we have nothing to put up!!' Actually its not that bad.. but it all seems tough competing to last year's PROPERLY-funded and well-rehearsed theme - a tribute to Rabindranath Tagore!! Suddenly everyone's asking, whats the theme this year?

It reminds me of the Durga Puja time in Kolkata, all that matters is the theme! But for all of us here, who are involved in the preparation of Bengali New Year, this is almost akin to Durga Puja.. and this year's theme as it is turning out to be is 'A Collection of Missed Tribute' as the inauguration is about Swami Vivekananda (for the students from VIT who'll understand this better at this juncture - Asit Ranjan Ghosh Sir from SBST - is involved!), there's a dance drama depicting the 'Cultural evolution of Bengal' that includes a song dedicated to Lalan Fakir, the little known, 19th century philosopher-poet, immortalized by baul songs, a portrait by Jyotirindranath Tagore and subsequently the 2010 movie Moner Manush.. Lastly, there might be a play Michhil written by famous play-writer Badal Sircar, who passed away last year..

Well, at least that's the plan..

All official work has been done - the innumerable signatures, the official red-tapes, the forms, the letters, the permissions.. however, the matters-that-bother-others-not i.e. the funding - is yet to be characterized.. one of the few perks of organization!

Wish us luck.. and oh! Got to go, music practice at 8, this post was just a reminder that I'm alive.. I love ya, my readers! :)