[EAS]Occam's Razor

pjk pjk at design.eng.yale.edu
Wed Aug 28 18:22:06 EDT 2002

Subject:   Occam's Razor

Dear EAS-INFO Readers -

Well, I'm back from the Maine Northwoods, and some more populous
places along the north-east-most Maine coast, the new academic year
beckons, as do a number of household repair projects.

So maybe it is best to resume these occasional mailings with the
subject of simplicity, i.e. with today's John Lienhard "Engines of
our Ingenuity" radio spot titled "Occam's Razor," kindly called to
my attention by my friend and like-minded colleague Alfred Ganz.


It is terse, as usual. Some favorite quotes

> In a really good design you eventually make the very design itself
> unnecessary. And that is very hard to do because we like
> complication.

>  ...to take that last step -- to walk the plank from a clever design
> to no design at all -- takes nerve as well as imagination. We're so
> tempted to look smart by mastering complication instead of
> simplicity.

And John Lienhard concludes that "Good design exacts a price from
our egos, but it really is a gift -- it really is freedom -- to find
the simplicity in things and finally to reduce an engineering design
down to where it ought to be."

And I would go even a little further, and say that the aesthetic
calm of simplicity is a little like the sentiment Walt Whitman
expressed in his poem "When I Heard the Learned Astronomer."

  When I heard the learned astronomer,
  When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
  When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and
      measure them,
  When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much
      applause in the lecture-room,
  How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
  Till rising and gliding out I wandered off by myself,
  In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
  Looked up in perfect silence at the stars.

All the best for the new academic year.  --PJK

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