No time? Listen to it instead
It’s been a rather odd time these past few weeks, especially if you’re in a country where lockdowns are severely enforced. With more time on our hands, it gets easier to go into a spiral of thought about the most mundane things possible. It could be something as simple as a coworker’s tone on a Zoom call or a friend’s text which felt awry. The thought stays, and you start to nitpick every little thing.
That’s pretty much how we function on a general day, pandemic or otherwise. Good thing we have razors. Wait, hold on, not those razors but philosophical razors. They serve only one purpose – to cut thought midway.
There are about eight commonly accepted razors. For simplicity, we’ll only talk about the common two, and if this seems a bit heavy, just hold on because we’ll simplify it soon enough.
The first one is Occam’s Razor. English friar William of Ockham found himself often facing the same conclusions but with multiple explanations. So, he gave something that we call today the law of parsimony.
“You said you’ll simplify it, didn’t you?”
Yes, I did. The law of parsimony is nothing but,
“All things being equal, the simplest explanation is more often the correct one.”
“So, how can I apply this to my daily spiral of thoughts?”
Simple. Bruce from work doesn’t reply to the meme you send for a while. When they do, it’s a simple “Okay” of acknowledgement.
Now, you can go on to assume that Bruce is absolutely disgusted by working with you, and now that the workplace has shifted to the internet, they don’t want to do anything with you and your sad sense of humour. Then, you start to think of every scenario where Bruce was abrupt and make something out of nothing.
You can do that, or you can take a step back, hold that thought, and shave it with Occam’s Razor.
What’s the simplest explanation to someone from your workplace replying to you in a rather short text? They’re busy. Let’s use that to create a more straightforward explanation.
“We’ve all been shifted to a work-from-home environment, and my days are longer now. I’m sure that’s with everyone. Perhaps, Bruce is busy like I am too, so they must’ve just sent an ‘Okay’ because they could’ve been shuffling between call after call like I am.”
The result is still the same. Bruce sent you a single word reply for something you wanted to tell them, and yet, the narrative doesn’t make you feel as bad. Also, this new narrative might be more correct and on-point than them having absolute disgust for you. That’s just outrageous in most cases.
Alright. Hanlon’s Razor is up next.
Let’s look at the same scenario but this time, let’s go back a bit and look at Bruce receiving your message. Now, Bruce is rather clumsy, but he’s a good friend otherwise. You send a meme to Bruce over Slack, expecting some laughter emoji in reply. Bruce looks at the message and laughs rather loudly.
Coincidentally, he then gets another one from one of your colleagues informing him of an impromptu meeting. He decides he’ll make a cup of coffee to bear through the discussion. As he gets up to get a cuppa, he mixes up the chats and doesn’t realise it. Still giggling, he sends a laughter emoji to the text informing him of the meeting. Classic Bruce.
He comes back with a cup of coffee, types “Okay”, hits enter, and joins the call which has just popped up as another notification. He doesn’t realise he’s sent that “Okay” to you instead of the message informing him of the meeting invitation.
Let’s look at this entire scenario with Hanlon’s Razor in mind now which says,
“Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by human stupidity.”
In other words, as Jake Peralta from Brooklyn 99 would remark, “They dumb!”
You’ve known Bruce for long enough now to understand how often he mixes things up. You’re sure an “Okay” wasn’t a great response to the meme you sent. With the two facts in your knowledge, you can easily conclude, “Oh, it’s just Bruce being clumsy again” and that’s where you can stop. “Classic Bruce” is not a detailed explanation but it works most of the time.
Later that evening, you get a text from Bruce, “Shit. Sorry, man. I must’ve mixed up the chats. That was hilarious! And you know what happened? Clark sent me a request for a meeting, and I sent him a laughter emoji. That was awkward.”
Both of you laugh. No, not at the meme anymore but at Bruce being Bruce. No, Bruce doesn’t hate you, he was just busy managing everything. Add that to his general clumsiness, and that’s a recipe for misunderstanding right there.
Of course, the examples above are too perverted to explain something that great philosophers use to cut their thought and arrive at brilliant conclusions for broader issues. However, philosophical razors (like the real ones) are nothing but a tool.
You can use them every day to shave thought off and slow down for a second. The human experience clubbed with technology, issues we have on our own, and issues others have with themselves becomes a hot mess of confusion. Often, the real explanation is rather simple.
There are, of course, cooler razors such as Newton’s Flaming Laser Sword which is as impressive as the name makes it sound. I’d say you read up on all of them here. In any case, applying razors quickly to everyday interactions, albeit crudely, has helped me immensely over the past half year since I first read about all of them.
We create these baffling explanations about our relationships, friends, work, and all sorts of other daily situations. All that thought and inability to validate it puts us in a deadlock. The idea is to use philosophical razors, somewhat perversely, every day. Often, the simplest explanation is the correct one as per Occam’s Razor. As per Hanlon’s Razor, the most straightforward reason being stupidity is more common than there being any malice. These two alone can slow down the feedback loop of everyday overthinking.
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