Apply Occams Razor

Occam's razor states that the simplest explanation is probably the correct one.

Suppose you hear noises in the middle of the night, and the next morning you discover a broken lamp in your living room. You can construct a number of hypotheses to explain the events. Alien beings, from a small planet in the Orion Nebula, have landed their flying saucer in your backyard, tiptoed into your living room, and just before they were about to abduct you and perform invasive biological experiments on you, they tripped over the lamp and were frightened off.

That's one hypothesis.

Consider another. Last night you forgot to let out your cat, Snowball 3. After lights out, your dog, Rover 5, who usually sleeps quietly in the living room, chased Snowball 3 who knocked over the lamp while scrambling to get away.

Obviously, the simplest hypothesis is the second one. A version of William of Occam's axiom (from Bartlett's Familiar Quotations) is, "Entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily." We already have two entities (Snowball 3 and Rover 5)—do we need a third?

By checking to see if your cat is still in the house, you can confirm a prediction of this hypothesis. Of course, if there are three-toed footprints, no Snowball 3 to be found, and a huge depression in your backyard where a heavy object rested during the night, you might reconsider the first hypothesis. The simplest explanation is probably correct, but not always.

Did the United States fake landing on the moon? There is a hypothesis that NASA discovered that it was impossible to get to the moon on President Kennedy's timetable, so they went to Hollywood and faked everything with special effects.

The alternate hypothesis is that we really did land a man on the moon. On July 16, 1969, around a million people went to Cape Canaveral and witnessed the launching of the gigantic moon rocket, the Saturn V. It stood 365 feet high, as tall as a 36-story building. It shook the ground when it took off. (Kurt Vonnegut's brother said the noise was so loud even at three miles away that he was convinced it was worth every penny of the $30 billion we spent.) Those million people saw it ascend into the sky, pick up speed, drop off the first stage, accelerate, shrink, and finally disappear. Ham radio operators from around the world listened to the astronauts, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins communicating with Mission Control. Lunar rocks—unlike anything on Earth—were brought back along with many photographs. More than 400,000 people worked on the project for nearly ten years. Three men died (Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee) in a horrible fire during a ground test of the Apollo capsule. Instruments were placed by Armstrong and Aldrin that allowed laser beams from Earth to be reflected off the moon to determine the distance within centimeters. A dozen men walked on the moon, returned to Earth, and told their stories.

The alternative hypothesis would suggest that the giant moon rocket wasn't going to the moon (or at least did not carry men there), that three men were killed to make the story seem real, that hundreds of thousands of scientists, engineers, technicians, and skilled laborers kept the secret along with the dozen men who claim they walked on the lunar surface.

As Sherlock Holmes told Dr. Watson, "When you eliminate the impossible—whatever remains—however improbable, must be true."

I submit that it would be impossible to keep the secret of faking the moon landing when so many people were involved. In fact, it would be a lot easier to actually go to the moon than to fake it.



"If a man can write a better book, preach a better sermon, or make a better mousetrap than his neighbor, although he builds his house in the woods the world will make a beaten path to his door."

Ralph Waldo Emerson

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