Monthly Archives: December 2016

The Trouble with Occam


ciceroSome things, course, obviously either true or not true. “The atomic weight of carbon is 14” is not the sort of fact which admits of very much argument. Neither is it a fact which is very interesting to most people. Most people are much more interested in questions which admit of a great deal of argument. Donald Trump is going to be a disaster for the United States. Global warming is an existential threat. The European Union does more harm than good. Hmm. Maybe, maybe not.

I have always thought that a version of Occam’s razor is quite a good place to start. It is the general notion that, where there are competing explanations of something, the simplest is the more probable. Or as Bertrand Russell put it:

Whenever possible, substitute constructions out of known entities for inferences to unknown entities

One application of all of this is the cui bono rule, which is often attributed to Cicero, although Cicero himself ascribed to Lucius Cassius[1]. A court should ask itself who is likely to benefit from a particular crime; that person may well be the criminal.

It is not an infallible rule, of course. Nor is my variant, which goes something like this:

Where there are competing versions of the truth, the one most infected by cognitive bias is the one less likely to be true.

Putting flesh on the bones of Occam’s razor, the simplest explanation as to why someone thinks something is true is often that Continue reading

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Deep water

2016_mirage-outback_studio_3-4_ivory-dune_shadowedA friend of mine was kind enough to let me try his Hobie kayak yesterday, off the beach of Hove.

These are clever. Instead of using your arms, you use your feet. They have paddle efforts, a bit like a turtle, so you can use the big muscles in your legs to cut along, instead of your arms. Brilliant.  After a while, I had not a twinge of backache, which is my usual problem with kayaks.  I thought it was great.

One of these chaps would be a good way of getting to the many coves around here which are inaccessible from land. They even have Continue reading

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Holiday Congestion in the Air

antenna

My internet connection, always a shade dodgy, gets terrible during the Christmas holidays, almost certainly because there are people around here who have holiday shacks, to which they bring their children, who spend their days downloading “entertainment” via Spotify and other things.

The little rotters should be outside running up and down sand dunes imho.

My chap at Telstra has emailed me with what his technical Continue reading

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Boxing Daze

rainyIt was 40.9 degrees C here at Myponga Beach yesterday, according to my weather station. But I woke up today to wind, rain and a less balmy Boxing Day 18.

There is something a bit odd, for someone brought up in the Northern Hemisphere, about Christmas happening mid-summer.  In the North, Christmas was of course the pagan mid-winter festival of Yule until it got highjkacked by the Christians.  The silly red Father Christmas suits look even sillier than they did at home when their synthetic threads sparkle like Babycham in the sun. Reindeers are not the sort of thing one finds in the wild around here. And of course, a big roast bird with lashings of brussels sprouts and walnut stuffing, followed by Christmas pudding with brandy butter, is not really Continue reading

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Athens of the North

They used to call Edinburgh the “Athens of the North”.

It looks like those days might well be back soon for Scotland as a whole, under SNP governance. The effect of their distaste of what they call “austerity” (it used to be called “living within one’s means”) is that they will soon be as broke as Greece; see eg http://www.businessinsider.com.au/scotland-faces-500-million-black-hole-in-local-government-spending-2016-11?r=US&IR=T.

The question is whether or not they will soon be under the same German fiscal domination as Greece? They already be there if they had voted for independence from Continue reading

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Quiz of the Day V

quizvWhat is denoted by this map?

The complete answer requires an explanation of Continue reading

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The Elite or The People?

brexit-mapThere is an irony in the fact that the decision handed down last month in Miller v Secretary of State [2016] EWHC 2768 (admin) was the week of Guy Fawkes’ Day night. There are parallels between the two events. I will come back to this parallel a little while.

The judgment, which ruled that the government does not have power to give notice of withdrawal from the European Union and Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union, is a remarkable document for all sorts of reasons. As with so many events in British history over the last millennium, it has much to do with the question of Britain’s independence from, or subservience to, Europe.

It should be said at the outset that the judgment will have come too many of us as a surprise. We have been Continue reading

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Quiz of the Day IV

Whose card was delayed? He spent his boxing day with a Nobel Laureate.

People have been solving these quizzes rather fast.   How fast for this one, I wonder?

christmas-tree-on-prasutagusHint: This photo will probably be of no assistance whatsoever. But it does illustrate the delight my Continue reading

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