Occam's razor

Philosophical principle of selecting the solution with the fewest assumptions
Quaestiones et decisiones in quattuor libros Sententiarum Petri LombardiThis notion was deeply rooted in the aesthetic value that simplicity holds for human thought, and the justifications presented for it often drew from theology.

Occam's razor has gained strong empirical support in helping to converge on better theories (see Uses section below for some examples).

The razor's statement that "other things being equal, simpler explanations are generally better than more complex ones" is amenable to empirical testing. Another interpretation of the razor's statement would be that "simpler hypotheses are generally better than the complex ones". The procedure to test the former interpretation would compare the track records of simple and comparatively complex explanations. If one accepts the first interpretation, the validity of Occam's razor as a tool would then have to be rejected if the more complex explanations were more often correct than the less complex ones (while the converse would lend support to its use). If the latter interpretation is accepted, the validity of Occam's razor as a tool could possibly be accepted if the simpler hypotheses led to correct conclusions more often than not.

Even if some increases in complexity are sometimes necessary, there still remains a justified general bias toward the simpler of two competing explanations. To understand why, consider that for each accepted explanation of a phenomenon, there is always an infinite number of possible, more complex, and ultimately incorrect, alternatives. This is so because one can always burden a failing explanation with an ad hoc hypothesis. Ad hoc hypotheses are justifications that prevent theories from being falsified.

One justification of Occam's razor is a direct result of basic probability theory. By definition, all assumptions introduce possibilities for error; if an assumption does not improve the accuracy of a theory, its only effect is to increase the probability that the overall theory is wrong.

... the simplest hypothesis proposed as an explanation of phenomena is more likely to be the true one than is any other available hypothesis, that its predictions are more likely to be true than those of any other available hypothesis, and that it is an ultimate a priori epistemic principle that simplicity is evidence for truth.

(If everything in the symbolism works as though a sign had meaning, then it has meaning.)

Further, it is superfluous to suppose that what can be accounted for by a few principles has been produced by many. But it seems that everything we see in the world can be accounted for by other principles, supposing God did not exist. For all natural things can be reduced to one principle which is nature; and all voluntary things can be reduced to one principle which is human reason, or will. Therefore there is no need to suppose God's existence.

Since nature works for a determinate end under the direction of a higher agent, whatever is done by nature must needs be traced back to God, as to its first cause. So also whatever is done voluntarily must also be traced back to some higher cause other than human reason or will, since these can change or fail; for all things that are changeable and capable of defect must be traced back to an immovable and self-necessary first principle, as was shown in the body of the Article.

Marcus Hutter's universal artificial intelligence builds upon to calculate the expected value of an action.