Saturday, 13 September 2014

One size fits most

I attended a professional development workshop recently where the concept of Occam's Razor was used kind of out of context by the facilitator—not to bad mouth the professionalism of the facilitator whose credentials (at least the number of years of teaching) are without question. His misapplication of the concept got me thinking about what I call the one-size-fits-most principle. It's kind of related to Occam's Razor but it also looks at the other "solutions" that are filtered out by the Razor.

Occam's Razor is "a principle of parsimony, economy, or succinctness used in problem-solving devised by William of Ockham (c. 1287–1347). It states that among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected. Other, more complicated solutions may ultimately prove correct, but—in the absence of certainty—the fewer assumptions that are made, the better." (Wikipedia)

There is a somewhat Darwinian aspect to the one-size-fits-most concept with a dash of cybernetics thrown in. In the new Cosmos: a spacetime odyssey TV series the host (Neil deGrasse Tyson) explains what climate is in relation to weather by an illustration of him walking his dog. He (representing climate) walks in a relatively straight line while the dog on a leash (representing weather) zig-zags about sniffing and exploring the owner's chosen path.

The expressed intent on reclamation of other "solutions"whatever they may be—are the zig-zags and the straight path put together. In other words, the one-size-fits-most principle is the interplay between the owner and the dog (ie, highly well-defined constraining principles that allow freedom for both the owner and the dog to deviate slightly while maintaining the integrity of the path).

I suspect this notion applies to most if not all natural systems. It takes out the value-ridden (mis)interpretation of Darwinism (ethnocentrism par excellence), and attempts to regain some level of intellectual honesty in the descriptors—honesty that inevitably gets lost in the process of unchecked rationalization/idealization in the scientific and philosophical discourse (especially prevalent in the ontological and epistemological branches of philosophy).

In the one-size-fits-most world the notion of the-survival-of-the-fittest (though certainly a part of the description) is incomplete and inadequate in every sense of the word. Applied in sociological terms, the-survival-of-the-fittest goes completely off the path and its perversity renders it unsustainable and unviable (ie, it leaves the natural world for the artificial and disingenuous realms of ideology and dogma).

In its crudest forms, the current Prime Minister of Canada is a perfect example of the survival-of-the-fittest mindset. Among his unforgivable Burkean political rhetoric and social engineering impulses, he maintains to anyone who'd listen and print his lie that he does not drink alcohol even as countless images of him drinking beer and wine and champagne attest contrary-wise. I choose him merely out of convenience and am largely indifferent really to whether he drinks sometimes or not.

The one-size-fits-most concept is not a methodology of providing clear binary solutions/answers but is rather more like a surveying instrument that describes a landscape and seeks the whys and wherefores of suitability of descriptors for this and that. Insofar as it is a process of reflection and contemplation, it is in the spirit of Einstein's "biggest blunder" and the fecund mathematical mind of Gauss who came up with so many different proofs of Pythagorean Theorem that he lost interest.

There is an intellectual/scholarly movement afoot—a long time coming—that is beginning to find purchase in the halls of learning. For example, the wonderfully generous and insightful (nay, Tao-like) comprehensive take on anthropology of Dr Eduardo Kohn vis. How Forests Think (2013) and the compassionate and honestly human take on sociological discourse of Dr Margaret Lisa Stevenson, and the likewise remarkable scholarly works of Karla J Williamson, Timothy B Leduc and Jean L Briggs (among many others more) all have some aspect of the one-size-fits-most bent. *a note of disclaimer: my interpretation of these scholars' works may be erroneous; these misinterpretations are entirely my own. My apologies to these fine scholars.

Jay

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