Parsimony (& Occam's Razor)

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Something is said to be parsimonious if it arises from a small number of inputs.

A few examples:

  • A parsimonious scientific theory depends on few assumptions
  • A parsimonious philosophy arises from few starting assumptions
  • A parsimonious game is has simple mechanics that nonetheless give rise by their design to enormous depth.

The opposite of parsimonious is contrived.

It should be noted that it is reductionist to note only the number of inputs. Another aspect of parsimony is: how broadly applicable (generalizable) are those inputs?

It is even more crucial to note that it is a mistake to confuse parsimony with the complexity of the outputs. The parsimony of a theory is not the complexity of what it explains, and the parsimony of a system is not the complexity of the processes it gives rise to. Because of emergent behavior, parsimonious systems are capable of giving rise to incredible complexity. Non-parsimonious inputs are limited in scope to the particular and idiosyncratic things they pertain to; in other words, they are more specific. By contrast, parsimonious inputs are, owing to their simplicity, able to pertain to a larger number of possible situations.

Occam's Razor

Occam's Razor is sometimes called the Principle of Parsimony. It states that the theory that is the simplest and most economical is often the best among a field of explanations. It is used in scientific enterprises.