2541: Occam

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Oh no, Murphy just picked up the razor.
Title text: Oh no, Murphy just picked up the razor.


This comic invokes three philosophical topics: Occam's Razor, the Barber Paradox and Murphy's Law.

Occam's Razor is the principle that explanations should not postulate more entities than necessary. It is often phrased as "the simplest explanation is best". The word 'razor' is intended to evoke the image of shaving off superfluous elements.

The Barber Paradox postulates a town barber who shaves all those, and those only, in the town who don’t shave themselves, and asks whether the barber shaves himself. The paradox is that if he does, then he shouldn’t, and if he doesn’t, then he should. It is an attempt at a concrete, real-world analogue of Russell's Paradox in set theory.

Megan tries to invoke Occam's Razor to create a simpler solution to the paradox. Occam's Razor is named in honor of philosopher William of Ockham (Ockham being a town in England) and she declares that William shaves the barber. Her proposal is humorous and does not of course resolve the paradox, as the barber is still not shaving himself (so he should shave himself, so he shouldn't shave himself...)

The title text invokes Murphy's Law: the expectation that "anything that can go wrong will go wrong." When you shave with a cut-throat razor, there's multiple things that could go wrong, many of which would cause harm to the person being shaved. Alternatively, invoking Murphy's law makes the principle of Occam's Razor itself, or its use in the comic, "go wrong", possibly rendering the solution invalid.


[Megan is holding a hand palm up towards Cueball as they are walking together.]
Megan: The simplest explanation is that Occam shaves the barber.

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The minimalist nature of the cartoon seems appropriate to the subject. I think keeping the explanation simple would also be appropriate. My attempt was:

Combines  Occam's razor with the  barber paradox.  
The title text refers to  Murphy's law.

Which promptly was greatly expanded. 20:28, 12 November 2021 (UTC)

Aye, sorry about that. I also thought I was minimalist (except for the different Incomplete-BOT-thing submitted, probably) and consciously overwrote you by my own 'from scratch' one after I got the inevitable edit-conflict. I might not have done, but I believe your explanation would have suffered later hyperverbiation by others, anyway, but mine covered at least one extra issue (the continuity of the razor throughout it all) that could postpone this. 20:36, 12 November 2021 (UTC)
No worries. "Simplify, simplify, simplify!" - Thoreau
"Why didn't he just say Simplify" - One of the panelists on Says You 20:46, 12 November 2021 (UTC)

Shouldn't the name of the comic be "Razor", since that's the common concept? Barmar (talk) 22:50, 12 November 2021 (UTC)

The highest likelihood (and funnier line) is that Peter (referring to The Peter Principle) grabs the razor. -- [[User:{{{1}}}|{{{1}}}]] ([[User talk:{{{1}}}|talk]]) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

Benford may have something to say about the number of injuries he subsequently observes needing treatment, on any given day... 04:55, 13 November 2021 (UTC)

This comic really reminds me of 1505: Ontological Argument. 16:44, 13 November 2021 (UTC)Bumpf

Megan and Cueball are walking similarly as that comic and 1315: Questions for God. But Megan's hair seemed to have thinned out in 1505. Was Randall's pen running low that day? Barmar (talk) 17:59, 13 November 2021 (UTC)

I always thought that the simplest explanation for the Barber paradox, is that the barber is female, so she is not one of the men who does not shave themselves & there is no paradox.
ProphetZarquon (talk) 17:30, 14 November 2021 (UTC)

I don't think we really needed to double the length of the Barber section, to mention it, though? I'm not sure the current phrasing is even precisely accurate to the classical phrasing of the paradox, yet... With precise phrasing, we presumably wouldn't need to specify that the Barber is not female?
ProphetZarquon (talk) 00:35, 15 November 2021 (UTC)

I don’t think most people would know what “bad failure modes” are. (I certainly don’t.) Szeth Pancakes (talk) 19:15, 14 November 2021 (UTC)

Rather than to fail-safe, it will fail-dangerous. A razor that fails-safe will just not shave as desired. One that fails-dangerous will perhaps cut more than the (un)desired beard and/or stubble. And now you know what "bad failure modes" means, do feel free to use as concise a phrasing as you think will suffice in its place. 00:13, 15 November 2021 (UTC)

There's another solution to the barber paradox - what if there are two barbers? Then they can shave each other. 14:27, 15 November 2021 (UTC)

Then the barber still wouldn't be shaving himself, so according to the rules of the paradox, he would have to be shaving himself. Szeth Pancakes (talk) 19:09, 15 November 2021 (UTC)
And the second barber only shaves those who do shave themselves, then he'll in turn have a limited (or at least ad-hoc) clientelle, that validly could or could not include himself (but if it does, then that firmly disqualifies him from Barber 1's attentions).
Though the age-old aphorism is that in visiting a town with just two barbers, if you know nothing else it's best to try to use the one with the less neat haircut, overall, as they should have been the one who more skillfully cut the hair of their better-looking compatriot. 00:02, 16 November 2021 (UTC)