I give an example where this question is important:

There are 2 explanations of how the Universe came into existence:

  1. The Universe come out of nothing or something similar to nothing like quantum fluctuations
  2. God created it

First one uses Occam razor, and second one uses anti razor if I am not wrong? Which one is more valid in this special case? Isnt it more likely that something as big and complex as Universe came in to existence from someone or something even more complex like God then out of something as simple as nothing?

  • 1
    Are you using the creation of the universe as an example, or is your question about it specifically? To the general question, it is a tautology: the explanation is never the thing itself, so must be strictly less complicated. Oct 26, 2015 at 3:02
  • My question is general and Universe is just an example. I think that both Occam razor and anti razor can be true and it depend s from a specific case. Additional question is how do we know the difference where one is right and when the other. When do we have to say that something is a pure miracle and that it can not be explained through realitively simple thing in this Universe and with physical laws which we know. For example if we have point where all physical laws collapse like "before"big bang why do we still insist as its not the case and as we can explain this even simply with those phy Oct 26, 2015 at 12:26
  • You seem to be asking two separate questions but phrasing them as one: Per the God/Universe example: Does a cause have to be simpler than its effects? But you it looks like you are confusing the words explanation and cause, which make the question hard to understand. Later you seem to be asking a second related question about Occam's razor: With all things equal, why should we always choose the simplest explanation over other explanations? There seem to be valid philosophical questions in here, but please rephrase and clarify. Oct 26, 2015 at 22:15
  • What I want to ask is exactly in this: Isn't anti razor as valid as Occam razor in explaing the Universe and things in it? This question can be refolmulated in different ways and applied to different cases and thats what I tried to do but when I changed formulation it then implied other subquestions which obviously made confusion. Oct 26, 2015 at 22:45
  • I can't parse several of the sentences in this question (2nd, 3rd, 4th)
    – Dave
    Oct 27, 2015 at 13:51

6 Answers 6


You seem to be confusing a very fundamental distinction.

And mixing up symbols and whatever they are about. To "explain" something is not to "reproduced" or "expand" it. It is to "reduce" it in some functional way. A way general enough to be accessible to others.

The classic example is a map. The map is useful only because it removes information. A map as large and detailed as the territory is not very useful. Indeed it leaves you right back where you started.

Your idea that a "fundamental theory" should be more complex than what it explains is, I will say, original and entertaining. And it can often seem that philosophy strives to do just that.

And yes, there is nothing that proves Occam's razor is "more true" than adding in all sorts of layers. Fairies, martians, spells, invisible rays, your own theory of gravity. You can add in all sorts of layers to "explanations."

But strange as it sounds at first, "knowledge" is actually a reduction of possibilities. Possibilities are infinite. Knowledge reduces them.

  • A map is indeed a good example because on a map you have all possibilities just simplified as much as possible. We could have even more simple instruction for someone who wants to go from A to B but we use map to show all possible ways and then we just highlight the fastest way for example but still all other ways are still possible. Maybe we can be wrong that everything in nature is like this that some other weird path is not taken more complex but true and especially when we are explaining how things like human brain came in to existence or where does consciousness come from. Oct 26, 2015 at 12:32
  • Take for example interpretations of quantum mechanics? Which one is right? Maping in some cases is the best way to explain things... to show different ways how something came in to existence instead of insisting on just one explanation even if its more possible then other options.. Oct 26, 2015 at 12:50

Circumstances and explanations live on different levels, they belong to different categories. A circumstance either is - then called a matter of fact - or is not. On the other hand, an explanation or a scientific theory can be either complex or simple - compared to other explanations of the same issues.

If one system seems more complex to us than another one, e.g., a human brain more complex than a stone, then it is our human judgement, our point of view. It is not a property of the objects in question.

Hence one cannot compare circumstances with explanations in their relation to complexity.

Aside, considering only the domain of explanation and theory: Theories exist based on quite simple principles or fundamental equations, but they explain a big range of phenomena. Good examples are Newton's mechanics, Maxwell's electrodynamics or Einstein's Theory of Relativity.

Concerning the universe as a whole, we do not have a scientific explanation until now.

  • I am talking about things on the edge of our knowledge. With those things we simply can not know which explanation is better. Oct 26, 2015 at 12:45
  • @Ames Klisura One has to employ the usual criteria for testing a theory: Power of prediction, precision of prediction, scope of explanation, additional assumptions, etc.
    – Jo Wehler
    Oct 26, 2015 at 14:19
  • Thanks definitely yes...its just that in some cases we can fail at seeing a forest while observing tree's . Oct 26, 2015 at 23:34

You have to consider what Occam's Razor is about:

Take two explanations of the same human behaviour, for example altruism. They both are "reasonable" explanations. But one explanation has to claim that there are hippie-forces making people happy if they are altruistic and the other explanation does the same task without having to claim that there are hippie-forces, but stays in the theoretical framework needed for the explanation of many, many other facts.

Which one is better? Well, it is better to cut off what is not needed. That's what we do if we use the argument of Occam's Razor.

As a less polemic example from philosophy: There are theorists that claim that there are "sense data" as instances in addition to world and mind. They use them to explain how knowledge about the world is possible. Other theorists do not need these instances to explain knowledge about the world, but do only have to claim that there are world and mind. Therefore sense data theories (in making these claims) are worse than others.

It's not about the complexity of explanations in relation to facts. It is about the complexity of explanations in relation to explanations, given that all explanations are fully appropriate to the complexity of all facts considered.

That is very important in natural sciences as in philosophy, because it means, methodologically, that we should only claim additional things/forces/faculties/spins/quarks/laws etc., if the existing ones cannot explain all facts in their complexity.

  • Yes but can it not mislead us? If we use this principle and there are facts that we didn't consider or which we can not consider and observe then we can over simplify thing s .. Oct 26, 2015 at 12:44
  • How can facts that we "cannot consider and observe" have any relevance for us at all? Well, it is thinkable that every step I take kills a ghost in a spirit world. I cannot possibly know. But does that mean that I should not walk anymore? I don't think so. Get your thoughts straight ;)
    – Philip Klöcking
    Oct 26, 2015 at 21:58
  • Well I didn't say it in a right way... I meant more on mathematical concepts and ideas which we can not prove like other dimensions and universes or the idea of infinite Universe etc. Oct 26, 2015 at 22:25
  • Again: Will it make any diffence in our practices if we do try to take these thinkable complexeties into consideration as long as they do not turn out to have any effect and therefore become facts? If not, why should we adjust any practices because of them? Just...because? Not wanting to look stupid to higher dimensional beings? It will be that way in any case, if they can conceive us at all (which I doubt), if they would exist.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Oct 26, 2015 at 23:09
  • This is a great article about question which I have: iacblog-english.blogspot.hr/2013/06/… Oct 26, 2015 at 23:28

The explanation of something should have one important property - inference i.e given some facts what other facts I can infer about the thing using the explanation. That's the sole reason for the explanation/theory to exist. The thing itself that we are trying to explain is a bunch of facts that we can observe or observed but facts themselves are doesn't have inference ability until used along with some explanation.

Now, what if the explanation is complex? What can we say about the inference ability of a complex explanation? The complexity will lead to the increase in the number of inferences the explanation could potentially produce BUT what if the explanation is more complex then the thing (or the collections of facts) themselves? In this case the explanation will infer facts that you can't even observe in the thing itself and that obviously is very weird.

  • So when we can we use Ocam razor but if by using Ocam razor we need apstract "facts" then we jump to anti razor? Oct 26, 2015 at 12:40

The assumption is untrue: the explanation of some simple things is more complex than the thing itself.

For instance, take the act of throwing a ball. It is a gross motor skill that any one-year-old kid is expected to have. However, if one tries to explain i.e. verbalize the act of throwing a ball, one would have to approach the task in terms of various bones, joints and muscles involved, and various forces of physics such as gravitation, acceleration and momentum. To explain a skillful throw, one would have to further involve aspects such as eye-hand coordination, split-second timing of hip, leg, shoulder, arm and hand movements, proprioception, angular velocity etc.

So, it would take a whole PhD thesis to explain one single throw of a star baseball pitcher!

One can give any number of such examples of things that are simpler than their explanation.


I think we should understand Occam's razor as being a methodological principle rather than an epistemological one. What I mean is this: given a bunch of data and two candidate explanations, would I prefer the simpler explanation? Yes. Simpler is better; I don't want my explanations to be more complex than they need to be. But does this mean that the simpler explanation is more likely to be correct? Not necessarily. Plenty of simple explanations turn out to be false in the light of further data. We are still a long way from having a theory that accounts for everything in the universe. Our knowledge is provisional and fallible, and as it grows we may well come to find that our simple explanations are wrong and more complex ones are needed.

As such, if someone offers me an explanation and urges that it is desirable because it is simple, that's fine. But if they try to argue that it is more likely to be true because it is simple, this is dubious to say the least.

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