Occam’s Razor Fight – Why Beethoven Has A Lot In Common With Punching Someone Unconscious
I don’t have any tattoos. This isn’t because I find them distasteful or have a fear of needles or anything. It’s just that my tastes are far too fickle to mark any of them permanently on my body.
If I had tattooed myself whenever the whim took me, my collection would now include Iron Maiden’s second album cover, Aleister Crowley, Schrodinger’s Equation and Fat Freddy’s Cat. Choices dependent on my age/level of pretension/degree of drug use at the time.
I’m bad enough when I get a haircut which turns out to be less stylish than I thought once the opportunity to view it in my mirror at home has presented itself. And even the worst of tonsorial disasters grows out after three weeks. A tattoo does not.
I do still want a tattoo though, so there is a certain inevitability to me eventually getting one. Perhaps it’ll happen when my body has slumped enough for changes of heart about skin decoration not to be too much of a consideration. When my primary concerns are my painful hips and the ability of my bladder to retain urine, I’ll probably get inked up.
I’m still not sure what I’ll get done, but I do know that it will involve the following Latin inscription. “Pluralitas Non Est Ponenda Sine Neccesitate”. In case you are unfamiliar with it, this is Occam’s Razor. It is a principle which people who get things done have used for centuries in order to do those things as efficiently as possible. Roughly translated, it means “Entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily.”
No, I didn’t have a fucking clue what that meant the first time I read it either. I do now though. There are many ways of expressing and applying Occam’s Razor, but my favourite goes like this : “If you have two possible solutions to a problem and one of them is complicated and one of them isn’t, choose the one that isn’t.” Or as the Americans say, razoring it down even further, “Keep It Simple, Stupid”.
This is a principle that applies to many things, especially music. Beethoven’s Fifth has many sublime lilts and twiddly bits, but it’s the opening bars that everyone remembers. “Dah-Dah-Dah-Dum”. It’s short and it’s simple but it’s the most famous and memorable passage of music in history. And all it is, is “Dah-Dah-Dah-Dum”.
Remember when you were when you first heard the world changing opening chords of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”? Yeah, me too. Remember where you were when you first heard the most noodley part of Yes’s “Tales From Topographic Oceans”? No? Hardly surprising. If you did get to that point, you’d probably have consumed a couple of pots of mushroom tea by then. Trust me though, even without a heavy chemical fog shrouding your brain, you wouldn’t have remembered it anyway. It is the only album in history that people listen to and come away whistling the cover artwork.
Up until now, my favourite illustration of Occam’s Razor was a story involving the casting of the part of “The Book” in the original radio series of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy”.
The casting room was filled with terribly clever men, including Douglas Adams and John Lloyd. They were debating who to give the incredibly important part of “The Book”, essentially the narrator of the entire tale. They eventually settled on the idea that the part definitely required a “Peter Jones-y sort of voice”.
These men were all very well connected in showbiz terms. The names of many character actors were bandied about, but none of them were deemed to have that essential “Peter Jones” quality that they so desperately needed.
Also in the room was John Lloyd’s PA, who was getting more and more frustrated with the idiotic conversation she was being forced to listen to. Eventually she could hold her tongue no longer and piped up, quite tersely, “Has anyone considered perhaps ringing Peter Jones to see if he might be available?” There was a stunned silence and the sound of many pennies dropping. A phone call was made to Peter Jones, who was actually available as it happens, and the rest is history.
This story is also an illustration of the principle that if important decisions need to be made, getting a room of fiercely intelligent men to make them is not always the best way of going about it.
I do still really like that story, but it is no longer my favourite illustration of Occam’s Razor in action. My favourite example is now this video from the world of Martial Arts.
If you don’t understand Occam’s Razor after watching that, then I’m afraid you’re doomed to live a very convoluted and unsuccessful life. I dread to think what your tattoos look like.
© Copyright Michael Grimes 2014