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Location: UFOUpDatesList.Com > 1998 > Jun > Jun 5

Occam's Razor and UFOs

From: "Greg Sandow" <gsandow@prodigy.net>
Date: Fri, 5 Jun 1998 10:24:55 -0400
Fwd Date: Fri, 05 Jun 1998 11:00:48 -0400
Subject: Occam's Razor and UFOs


"Mass Found in Elusive Particle," reads the headline on the front
page of today's New York Times. "Universe May Never Be the
Same."

And the subhead reads: "Discovery on Neutrino Rattles Basic
Theory About All Matter." This was certainly an important
scientific discovery. Neutrinos, the most elusive of all
subatomic particles, have long been thought to have no mass. Now,
apparently, scientists have proved that they DO have mass, thus
overturning all sorts of theories.

This gives me an occasion to talk about something I've been
thinking of for a while, Occam's Razor. This is a well-known
scientific adage, not exactly a theory or a principle, but a good
rule of thumb for research. It says, basically, that we shouldn't
make up theories without any reason, and that the simplest
explanation of something -- the one that does NOT require forming
new and alarming hypotheses -- is the one we should prefer.

No problem there. The scientist, Yoji Totsuka, who announced the
findings about the neutrino clearly shaves with Occam's Razor,
since he's quoted as saying: "We have investigated all other
possible causes of the effects we have measured and only neutrino
mass remains." In other words, he and his colleagues considered
all explanations that would have preserved the idea that
neutrinos don't have mass, and formed their radical, new idea
only after those explanations didn't work.

What does this have to do with UFOs? Well, skeptics like to
invoke Occam's Razor as one of their many reasons for concluding
that all UFO sightings have -- or probably have -- conventional
explanations. Peter Brookesmith has made that argument here; my
very smart composer friend Scott Johnson suggested it in a
conversation we had not long ago. In effect, they're saying:
"Here we have all these reports of strange lights, metallic
disks, you name it. Which is more likely, that they're all
misinterpretations of known phenomena (or of course lies), or
that they're ET visitors? Occam's Razor forces us to assume the
former."

But really it does no such thing. If it did, today's New York
Times headline would be impossible. It would have to read:
"Japanese-American Scientific Team Says Neutrino Has Mass;
Scientific Community Rejects Findings, Saying Occam's Razor Makes
Them Unlikely." Occam's Razor tells us how to do research, but
says nothing about what the research will reveal. It tells us to
eliminate familiar explanations first, but can't possibly say
that the radical new unconventional explanation will always turn
out to be false. If it did, scientific progress would be
impossible. We'd still believe in a flat earth, an "ether" that
fills all space, and the Biblical creation myth.

And in fact there's a great irony in skeptics turning Occam's
Razor against ufology. The irony is simply this: Responsible UFO
research is one of the best examples of Occam's Razor used
properly. What does a UFO investigator do when someone reports a
sighting? He or she tries to eliminate all conventional
explanations. That's what UFO witnesses do, as well. Over and
over, we read sighting reports that say something like: "I saw a
light, and I thought it was a plane. But I didn't hear any noise,
and soon the light descended close to the ground, behind a grove
of trees. So I figured it had to be a car, but...." Over and
over, UFO witnesses refuse to assume that what they're seeing is
something unknown. On the contrary, they assume it's something
familiar, and only when it clearly can't be do they conclude that
it's strange and unusual.

Some months ago, the Times reported another scientific upheaval.
Conventional scientific wisdom has long believed that mature
animals (including humans)don't grow new brain cells. Now it
turns out that this is wrong -- new brain cells do grow, after
all. Deep in the story was a sad little tidbit. Someone had
already proved that new brain cells grow, in research published
more than a decade ago. But nobody believed him. Science KNEW
that the growth of new brain cells was simply impossible.

That's what happens when you take Occam's Razor too far.

Greg Sandow



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