Finding Occam's razor in an era of information overload

Nov 20, 2013

How can the actions and reactions of proteins so small or stars so distant they are invisible to the human eye be accurately predicted? How can blurry images be brought into focus and reconstructed?

A new study led by physicist Steve Pressé, Ph.D., of the School of Science at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, shows that there may be a preferred strategy for selecting mathematical models with the greatest predictive power. Picking the best is about sticking to the simplest line of reasoning, according to Pressé. His paper explaining his theory is published online this month in Physical Review Letters, a preeminent international physics journal.

"Building mathematical models from observation is challenging, especially when there is, as is quite common, a ton of noisy data available," said Pressé, an assistant professor of physics who specializes in statistical physics. "There are many models out there that may fit the data we do have. How do you pick the most effective model to ensure accurate predictions? Our study guides us towards a specific mathematical statement of Occam's razor."

Occam's razor is an oft cited 14th century adage that "plurality should not be posited without necessity" sometimes translated as "entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily." Today it is interpreted as meaning that all things being equal, the simpler theory is more likely to be correct.

A principle for picking the simplest model to answer complex questions of science and nature, originally postulated in the 19th century by Austrian physicist Ludwig Boltzmann, had been embraced by the physics community throughout the world. Then, in 1998, an alternative strategy for picking models was developed by Brazilian Constantino Tsallis. This strategy has been widely used in business (such as in option pricing and for modeling stock swings) as well as scientific applications (such as for evaluating population distributions). The new study finds that Boltzmann's strategy, not the 20th century alternative, assures that the models picked are the simplest and most consistent with data.

"For almost three decades in we have had two main competing strategies for picking the best model. We needed some resolution," Pressé said. "Even as simple an experiment as flipping a coin or as complex an enterprise as understanding functions of proteins or groups of proteins in human disease need a model to describe them. Simply put, we need one Occam's razor, not two, when selecting models."

Explore further: A mathematical approach to physical problems: An interview with Rupert Frank

More information: "Nonadditive entropies yield probability distributions with biases not warranted by the data" Physical Review Letters, 2013.

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julianpenrod
1.4 / 5 (14) Nov 20, 2013
A threat to truth today is not so much "information overload" as the concerted effort by many unscrupulous to "design" the truth, to say what is and isn't true without even seeing it, to say what may be considered and what may not. "Debunkers", "nay-sayers", "skeptics", conventionalists saying what has been discovered, or claimed discovered, is all there is and everything has to be defined in terms of that. If Carl Sagan said it, it's true, otherwise, you mustn't even think it.
The debauching of Occam's Razor is only one technique they use, instead of saying that you should start an investigation with a minimum of suppositions and decide on the result, they say that the "simplest" hypothesis is the only right one and, even if it doesn't work, or another is better, you can only consider the simplest.
julianpenrod
1 / 5 (12) Nov 20, 2013
And, of course, they define "simplest" to fit their agenda. It's simpler to say UFO's are genuine than to toss about a thousand sometimes imbecilic "theories" about "optical illusions", but the "skeptics" say it's "simpler" to lump all optical illusions together.
The same with their craven hewing to Sagan's depraved doggerel "extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof". That is directed right at Sagan's core audience of dullards who like to act smug while knowing nothing. They define "extraordinary" to fit their agendas, too. A scrap of skin with alien protein structures is not extraordinary, skin scraps are used all the time in testing and investigation. Proof is proof, but the skeptics use Sagan's betrayal of truth, and the careful redefining of "extraordinary" to fit the situation, to "justify", at least in their psychotic community, accepting what they don't want to accept.
Walters1
Nov 20, 2013
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Disproselyte
1 / 5 (7) Nov 20, 2013
The Cyber Razor:
One could also take a cybernetic viewpoint and remind Ashby's principle of requisite variety, applied to knowledge as a dynamic evolutive model of reality: a performant model (to make useful predictions for stabilisation actions) will require at least as many degrees of freedom as the phenomena it tends to control.
EnricM
1 / 5 (8) Nov 21, 2013
...

yes, of course, UFO's are a very easy and sensible explanation to everything... there is just the little problem of having a spacecraft coming from a few hundreds of light-years away... and then there's this other easy to explain issue: If these guys come from so far, why do they just not land in the middle of Washington DC? yes, yes, it's all very secret... but then again, if it's secret and they are able to travel through space... why are they been seen in the first place? And why only by retarded rednecks ?
FastEddy
1 / 5 (6) Nov 21, 2013
"... I consider it completely unimportant who in the party will vote, or how; but what is extraordinarily important is this—who will count the votes, and how. ..." Joe Stalin.

And this explains why the IPCC global warming models don't work, because the data and the code are skewed by the agenda driven.

The Razor is sharpened and reality sets in when the more powerful, energetic and dynamic data, the Solar influences, are factored into the models = the simpler, more obvious causes v. effects ...

In the case of UFOs, compared to what? The number of sightings of easily identified flying objects, the data being built up minute by minute as airliners land and takeoff compared to the numbers of UFOs observed doing the same.