Occam’s Razor

entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem

Loosely translated it means, “of several acceptable explanations for a phenomenon, the simplest is preferable, provided that it takes all circumstances into account.” Its usually attributed to 14th-century English logician and Franciscan friar, William of Ockham. While it may look trivial at first glance, it forms one of the cornerstones of scientific process and also finds merit in almost every walk of life, from economics to engineering to psychology. Sounds pretty simple and logical but often we forget this maxim when confronted by problems.

Case in point. I have a neighbor with a child who is a year older than my elder daughter. And the problem is that his performance in his last exams was not very encouraging. So what do his parents do? They took him to a priest who convinced them that because Saturn is sitting in the seventh house in the boy’s horoscope, the kid is unable to concentrate on studies (something along those lines anyway). He gave a solution for about two thousand bucks – a ring with a semi-precious stone to be worn on the pinky of the right hand and some prayers and chants for the kid and the parents. In addition, a certain type of food had to be eaten and the kid has to give food with his own hands to a black animal – both on certain days of the week. This has to be done for almost two years.

Needless to say, the poor kid has even less time for studies now than he did six months ago. The parents had bought their first computer about a year back. The primary reason had been to introduce their children to technology. Many parents seem to think that dumping a fully loaded computer in front of their kids will suddenly turn them into geniuses. The parents are right in that a computer can help educate and expand the children’s horizons. But they are wrong in assuming that it can do so on its own. In the end and in the absence of guidance, all their kids seem to be doing on it are playing games. And its not enough.

Its not that the parents don’t care. On the contrary their kids are the first priority and they would do anything to help them succeed in life. The consultation with the priest shows that even educated people will leave no stone unturned if there is a chance it can help their kids achieve more.

This is where my opening statement about Occam’s Razor fits in. For about three hours every day now, those kids are playing on the computer. Add to that another two to three hours of family television. Then there is an hour or two of playing outside. Its easy to see why their grades are not going up as the parents had hoped. When given a choice, obviously a child will choose the easiest of the choices given to him. Kids are not mature enough to understand what is in their own best interests. That’s why they are kids.

The simplest solution in this case would be to divide the time allotted to television between the TV and the computer and make them understand that study time is just that. It is for studies only. Then they should sit with their kids and initiate them into computers so that computer time is further divided into learning and entertainment. That would be a use of computer which will be in all their interests. I don’t think Saturn can help with that.

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