william of occam meets the reverend nemu

THE TERM ‘OCCAM’S RAZOR’ is bandied about in our culture on a regular basis in a variety of circumstances. The average joe generally uses it to mean something along the lines of “The simplest solution to a problem is the correct solution.” Say it ain’t so, joe: the definition is not entirely accurate. And so here are William of Ockham and Reverend Nemu to discuss these things.

Most of this post was lifted from a trio of essays originally published here in 2014.

Occam’s Razor is a principle of parsimony [greediness] used in problem-solving. It states that among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected.

Other, more complicated solutions may ultimately prove correct, but—in the absence of certainty—the fewer assumptions that are made, the better.

This maxim seems to represent the general tendency of William of Ockham‘s philosophy, but it has not been found in any of his writings. His nearest pronouncement seems to be ‘Plurality must never be posited without necessity.’

The razor’s statement—that simpler explanations are, other things being equal, generally better than more complex ones—is amenable to empirical testing. 1

Occam’s Razor has been formalized in ontology, which is a branch of metaphysics concerned with the nature and relations of being. Ontological parsimony can be defined as a “rule of thumb which obliges us to favor theories or hypotheses that make the fewest unwarranted assumptions about the data from which they are derived.”

The concepts behind Occam’s Razor have been erroneously—and simplistically—assimilated into our culture as the simplest explanation is usually the correct one. And this gets people into trouble!

If you have a complex problem with many issues and you are presented with several possible hypotheses to that problem, choose the answer that resolves all or most of the issues in the problem in the simplest manner!

I rarely refer to Occam’s Razor in my own debates, I am much more likely to rely on the words Arthur Conan Doyle: When you have excluded the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. 2


Nemu: front cover of William Turner's book WILLIAM OF OCKHAM – A SHORT BIOGRAPHY.

What is knowledge anyway?

The information to Occam’s Razor above is intended as an introduction to what follows below: passages taken from an article titled “The Blunt Edge of Ockham’s Razor,” which was excerpted from the book Science Revealed by the Reverend Nemu. 3

Here the good reverend uses the razor as a springboard to address both science and the act of knowing something. I want to share a few of his observations because all of the above was an excuse to introduce you to Nemu’s view of both reality and Reality: 

What is knowledge anyway? It is not a physical thing; but neither is it a metaphysical ideal, like a perfect circle that can never be drawn, a mathematical constant with an infinite decimal tail, or a goddess of sublime beauty who never ages. Knowledge, eventually, relates to nothing but itself, and leads nowhere but back to itself.

What is sugar?

What does white look like?

What does sweet taste like?


God and the devil have been used as umbrella terms to explain things beyond our ken, as shields against uncertainty.


We are none the wiser until we know sugar intimately, until our tongues taste it and our teeth fall out, after which wordy descriptions are redundant. The same is true for any proposition one can make. In the final analysis, it refers to an experience that reveals the ‘suchness’ of a thing.

The revelation might be our own, or it might be someone else’s, in which case we place our faith in their judgement. Otherwise, we must admit our ignorance.

Knowledge is a bubbling cauldron of meaning, suspended over the abyss on invisible strands of nothingness. Knowledge always boils down to nothing—which is not a problem in itself, but we invariably confuse subjective knowledge for objective reality.

We think we have worked something out, so we stop thinking about it, and forget that the map is not the territory, and the territory is not terra firma.

Science grows along the wound made by Ockham’s Razor, but truly revolutionary ideas rarely result from beavering away in labs, tapping at computers and totting up tables.

Revelation comes when the rational mind is bypassed in dreams, trances and sudden insights, as we will see in the following chapter.

The rational mind wields the razor to choose between models, but this is secondary to the creative, non-rational processes of the unconscious, which generate the models in the first place.


Many bemoan the loss of faith and morality, but in some ways we are closer to God today than ever before.


Ignorance is a good start, but if knowledge is empty and nothing we can say about the world is true, what are we to believe in? Ockham believed in God, and considered any other rigidly held belief to be an obstacle to His grace.

Today’s seekers are more skeptical, and with good reason. God and the devil have been used as umbrella terms to explain things beyond our ken, as shields against uncertainty.

For Gnostics, there was and is more to God than the unknown: the divine can be known directly through a process of gnosis, through dreams, insights, trance and sudden revelation.

Church fathers have militated against such ideas since the third century, and continue to insist that God still moves in zones beyond our understanding.

Many bemoan the loss of faith and morality, but in some ways we are closer to God today than ever before.

A mind full of cobwebs and mumbo-jumbo is no good to anyone; but with razor in hand, the seeker is free to follow ideas wherever they wander, beyond the puke and the pretzels, beyond the bagels, and eventually beyond the confines of the beer tent.”


Nemu: photo of a stained glass window depiction of William of Ockham in a church in Surrey, England.

FEATURED IMAGE: A depiction of William of Ockham found on a stained glass window in a church in Surrey, England.

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FOOTNOTES:

1   These paragraphs were lifted from the Wikipedia entry for Occam’s razor. Editorially, emphasis was added throughout and certain paragraphs were abridged. The original article is more than 7,000 words in length, so there is much more left to be read.

2   This was, of course, attributed to Sherlock Holmes in The Adventures Of The Beryl Coronet (1892). And there are variations on this statement in other Holmes stories.

3   The original article is more than 4,600 words in length; my excerpts below are just over 500 words. Editorially, emphasis was added and words were Americanized. So should these excerpts interest you, then please click on over to the Reverend’s article and read it in its entirety!