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Occam’s Razor and The Paranormal Investigator (William of Occam – 1285 A.D. to 1349 A.D.)

All things being equal the simplest explanation tends to be the right one.”

William of Ockham, from stained glass window at a church in Surrey.

This theorem was first put forth by William Occam (aka William of Occam, sometimes also spelled as Ockham), a 14th century English Franciscan friar. The principle says that if there are several possible reasons for something happening, the reason that makes the fewest assumptions is likely to be the right one. This philosophy is of great significance to the paranormal investigator.

As investigators of the paranormal we often encounter very strange and unusual events during the investigation or while reviewing the evidence. Being in the paranormal field we are of course looking for evidence to support claims of paranormal activity. But sometimes in our desire to find a good piece of evidence we (as a community) reach pretty far and wide to “put the pieces together”. Too often very obvious or common explanations are overlooked or even excused in place of much more elaborate justifications for deeming something to be paranormal in nature.

By applying the Occam’s Razor theorem it can more clearly be seen that if you dismiss A as being the explanation while presuming B and C and D in order to conclude the evidence is paranormal then most likely A is the true answer. It’s not a hard and fast rule. But most often it is so.

For example:

  • A photograph full of orbs take outdoors on a hot and humid August night could be legitimately paranormal. But more likely it’s just moisture.

  • The recorded sound of a floor board creaking in an old house during the winter is probably more likely the wood expanding/contracting due to the temperature than being the foot steps of a ghost.

  • An EMF reading of 97mg in the living room of a home is more probably the result of electric devices or poor wiring in the house than an entity manifesting itself.

  • A person claiming demonic activity in their home but nothing is found on numerous investigations could indicate the entity is hiding but is also likely the person is misinterpreting certain events.

This is not to say the statements from home owners/residence, friends, witnesses etc. are always to be suspect or discounted. Not at all. But as responsible paranormal investigators it is prudent to document the statements however not let the claims influence your thinking about the source of activity. If activity can be recreated by known artificial means the Occam’s Razor has to conclude the recreation is probably more accurate than the claim and statements of paranormal activity are more likely misunderstandings or misinterpretations.

The key significance of Occam’s Razor for the paranormal investigator is to teach us to stop, think, and be realistic as to what is possible verses what is likely. In the paranormal field we know that pretty much anything is possible. But just how likely is it? If you have to connect too many dots, make too many assumptions, call upon too many if’s to get to the conclusion of something being paranormal than more likely it is not paranormal.

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