Thursday, March 29, 2007

Expecting the Unexpected, and Occam's Razor

'Pataphysics, as you know, is the science of the exception; hence of the unexpected.
Well, in a way; because clearly one is looking for the unexpected. The brain habituates itself to the expected, it is the dangerous unexpected towards which much of its cognitive apparatus is geared. The brain, indeed, dreads the unexpected and has to be ready for it. Brains that did not "attendre l'inattendu" would rapidly fall prey to the motorised lawn-mower of evolution. One hears the clock stop ticking.

In fact it is possible to argue the reverse of the Monty Python case that "NO ONE expects the Spanish Inquisition!": as Kant famously said, "Ich erwarte keine spanische Inquisition" - but we now know that he was - rarely for him - being ironic and that of course that was precisely what he expected.

If one expects the unexpected, and is justified in so doing because the unexpected not infrequently happens, then surely it is the expected that causes one, so often, to be surprised, as are smokers by their lung cancers. Did Joan expect Maxwell's silver hammer? Well, we know that she was "…quizzical/studied pataphysical science in the home" so it is extremely probable.

Occam's razor tells us that the simplest solution is likely to be the more elegant, that one should "shave off" extraneous bits of theory in the interests of parsimony. For example, outside of mental aberration it is simpler, and more elegant, and more likely to be true, that it was not god who created the world complete with fossils not very long ago.

Quantum physics, of course, puts us in a bit of a quandary. Let us simply assert, with Derrida, that it is possible for an object (or, more generally, an event) to be both expected and unexpected; the waveform collapses down to - incredibly! - a paradox when examined. For if it be the one, then it is surely the other, and vice versa.

It is for the above reasons that the Paris-based Collège de 'Pataphysique has so very many subcommittees, and strives towards the pure (what would in lesser hands be bureaucratic) state of targeting every possible exception with its own subcommittee.

The problem here is of course encapsulated by Gödel's theorem, which (vulgarly) states that there will always be a surprise. This should not surprise us. I expect to be surprised, and am rarely disappointed.

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