Cognition, Creativity, and Behavior: Selected Essays

By Robert Epstein | Go to book overview

26
THE PRINCIPLE OF PARSIMONY AND SOME APPLICATIONS IN PSYCHOLOGY

Summary. A modern principle of parsimony may be stated as follows: Where we have no reason to do otherwise and where two theories account for the same facts, we should prefer the one which is briefer, which makes assumptions with which we can easily dispense, which refers to observables, and which has the greatest possible generality. Psychologists often violate this principle, particularly in attributing complex behavior to cognitive processes. The practice is exemplified by recent accounts of chimpanzee behavior.

In this essay I first develop a modern variant of what has been called the 61 principle of parsimony." I achieve this through the device of commenting on a quotation by Ernst Mach on the nature of science. I then briefly trace the history of the concept in modern experimental psychology. Finally, I apply the concept to recent research with both chimpanzees and pigeons. I offer no defense of the principle, for, as I note below, I believe that no definitive defense is possible and acknowledge that the principle does not guarantee that a theory will be adequate or correct (cf. Barker, 1961; Goodman, 1972; Sober, 1981). I assume it, as did Ockham and others, as a first principle, one that, in the absense of arguments to the contary, must always be applied.


A PRINCIPLE OF PARSIMONY

"Science," wrote Mach, "may be regarded as a minimal problem consisting of the completest presentation of the facts with the least possible expenditure of thought" ( Mach, 1893/ 1960, p. 586; italics original). By his own definition the statement is not very scientific, for neither its meaning nor its implications for scientific practice are apparent. Scientists in most fields would agree that they strive to give "the completest presentation of the facts." But what does it mean to say that this should be done "with the least possible expenditure of thought"? Four possibilities suggest themselves.

Brevity. First--crudely substituting the word "speech" for "thought"--we might conclude that a good scientific theory is one of few words. The book of Genesis begins with a rather succinct account of creation: "In the beginning God

-237-

Notes for this page

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this page

Cited page

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited page

Bookmark this page
Cognition, Creativity, and Behavior: Selected Essays
Table of contents

Table of contents

Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this book

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this book
  • Bookmarks
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
/ 362

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.