A few weeks ago, we had a great time talking about all the mistakes people make when arguing on the Internet. We got kinda sophisticated, discussing oft-botched theories such as Russell's teapot, Godwin's law, and Poe's law. And when I say "we," I mean "me," because we weren't talking; I was just writing an article by myself. But "we" did have a great time. (Again, "we" = me, alone, by myself.)
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I just won a prize for making a masturbation joke in the shortest time in Cracked history.
Anyway, it turns out there is no shortage of stuff the Internet gets wrong when it's arguing. It also turns out that after dissecting three weighty theories in that last article, I'm tired. So this week, I'll start out like I'm an actual smart person talking about another theory thrown around in debates and then we can sit back and relax as the article devolves into more common ways the Internet sucks at arguing. Cool? Great. I'm glad we can talk like this.
#4. Occam's Razor Does Not Mean the Simplest Answer Is Always Right
Have you ever heard of Occam's razor? If you'd asked me that question for the majority of my life, I would have replied either "Yes ...?" or "No ...?" Either answer would have sounded like a lie, because it's one of those things you think you've kind of maybe heard of but can't remember. And then some know-it-all explains it as "Y'know, that theory that states 'The simplest answer's always right!'" And then you're all like, "Oh, right. Yes! Yeah, I know that." Well, turns out that's kind of wrong.
Occam's razor is a heuristic maxim intended to guide research down the most productive course. Generally, it states that among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected. But here's the thing: That's all it says. A "heuristic maxim" is a fancy phrase for a rule of thumb or a guideline. It's important to remember that more-complicated solutions can still be right. Occam's razor's just saying, as we try to figure this out, let's start with the theory that requires the fewest assumptions.
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Heuristic maxim. Is that Latin? Geez, I'm tired already. Clown break. OK. Back to work.
Part of the confusion might be due to the fact that William of Ockham -- the Franciscan friar whose razor we're talking about -- died in 1347 and never even put this theory forth in words. Instead, the term "Occam's razor" first appeared in 1852 in the works of Sir William Hamilton, Ninth Baronet (1788-1856), who attributed it to William of Ockham's overall teachings. And here's the other thing: It's not the kind of metaphor you're thinking of. Like there's no cute story about a man shaving or something that helps illustrate the point. It's called Occam's razor because it's a way of "shaving" away extraneous information by choosing the theory with the fewest assumptions.
Nevertheless, as stated, it's just a guide. So let's say you notice that every time you put a saucer of milk outside your door, it's gone an hour later. What accounts for this phenomenon? Well, maybe there's a hungry cat in your neighborhood. Or maybe your next door neighbor has a fear of dairy products and also has an indentured servant who patrols his surrounding area to make sure nothing unsettling is ever put near his master. Occam would say, "Um, let's go with the cat theory, because it has the fewest assumptions to disprove."
"Or I might also say, 'Hey, my name's William and I'm from Ockah, why the fuck do you refer to me as Occam??'"
But that doesn't mean the cat theory is right. It's just a starting point. And another more complicated theory like, say, you're in a hotel and the waitstaff is merely cleaning, might also be right.
#3. The Internet Doesn't Know What "Hipster" Means
If you look up "hipster" in Urban Dictionary, you actually get a really good definition. (It's also good at explaining what a blumpkin is.) But basically, aside from generalizations about fashion (tight jeans, androgynous shaggy haircuts, and thick framed glasses), hipsters espouse a counterculture aesthetic. They value more obscure forms of art and entertainment. In a sentence, the hipster prides himself on knowing what the cool stuff is and knowing it before everyone else thought it was cool.
"Sure, Arcade Fire is great, but Win Butler did his best work in the womb."
But too many people on the Internet seem to think a hipster is anyone who knows something you don't. I've had people in the comments refer to me as a hipster for liking Pink Floyd. PINK FLOYD. One of the biggest acts of the 1970s, one of the best-selling artists of all time in one of the most popular forms of music in the 20th century. That's not some obscure pick designed to impress. That's me saying, yep, that band that's always in everyone's top 10 of classic rock, I love them, too, just like millions of other people.
So yeah, lots of people have now found "hipster" a convenient thing to call anyone who just knows more shit. That makes college professors and librarians, and even people who know the actual definition of the word "hipster," hipsters.