Induction, Algorithmic Learning Theory, and Philosophy

Volume 9 of the series Logic, Epistemology, and the Unity of Science pp 111-143

How Simplicity Helps You Find the Truth without Pointing at it

  • Kevin T. KellyAffiliated withDepartment of Philosophy, Carnegie Mellon University

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It seems that a fixed bias toward simplicity should help one find the truth, since scientific theorizing is guided by such a bias. But it also seems that a fixed bias toward simplicity cannot indicate or point at the truth, since an indicator has to be sensitive to what it indicates. I argue that both views are correct. It is demonstrated, for a broad range of cases, that the Ockham strategy of favoring the simplest hypothesis, together with the strategy of never dropping the simplest hypothesis until it is no longer simplest, uniquely minimizes reversals of opinion and the times at which the reversals occur prior to convergence to the truth. Thus, simplicity guides one down the straightest path to the truth, even though that path may involve twists and turns along the way. The proof does not appeal to prior probabilities biased toward simplicity. Instead, it is based upon minimization of worst-case cost bounds over complexity classes of possibilities.