Posts Tagged 'Occam's Razor'

Simplicity

The most obvious is often the most elusive.

Occam’s razor is a hypothesis that suggests we peel or slice away unnecessary things to solve a problem. Largely attributed to the work of the English friar William Ockham around 1300, he said “entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity”. Obviously, this recommendation has had little impact on the construction of churches nor on the proliferation of on-line dating services.

Others have also received commendations for promoting simplicity, including Ptolemy around 150 who stated, “We consider it a good principle to explain the phenomena by the simplest hypothesis possible.”

Not to be outdone, Isaac Newton while waiting for the apple to fall in the 1600’s said, “We are to admit no more causes of natural things, than such as are both true and sufficient to explain their appearances.” Duh?

Variations continued unabated until we simplified the idea by stating, “The simplest explanation is usually the best one.”

I was reminded of Friar Occam while working out at the gym today. Ever since my long-time trainer Robert went on medical leave, I’ve placed myself in David’s capable hands. Their approach to training differs; Robert is a “let’s do everything that won’t kill you” kind of guy, while David is more focused on the things that may really be killing you. I find both approaches equally capable of inflicting pain and I occasionally wonder if I’d get the same results laying on my couch watching Grey’s Anatomy.

Since my bout with vertigo, I’ve focused on improving my stability through odd exercises. For example, shlepping 25-pound kettle bells in each hand and marching around the club’s second floor has brought me stares. Occasionally I feel like a delivery boy from Ojai Pizza.

Following Occam’s advice I start with the simplest yet most difficult balancing routine, standing upright with both feet parallel. Eyes closed, I try to maintain that position for 30 seconds with minimum wobble. No big deal, and I congratulate myself for not falling on my face. 

Then I position my left foot directly in front of the right, heel to toe, eyes closed. With wobbling akin to that experienced during the Northridge earthquake, I struggle to maintain the heel to toe position for 30 seconds; I succeed less than half the time. Then I reverse position putting my right foot in front; I succeed without serious injury most of the time.

David and I wonder why I do well with my right foot in front, and poorly when it’s my left foot in the lead. He believes that a tight muscle may be the problem; I believe it’s just the way I’m built. David wins and begins to experiment, hoping to find the offending muscle.

David has memorized the names of every bone and muscle and always impresses me with his ability to point them out. I have no idea if he’s fibbing since I have never progressed beyond knowing the difference between the ankle and the thigh.

Seeking the answer to my deficiencies often includes a series grabs and pokes looking for a “hot spot”, defined as a place that is more painful than the surrounding area. Working on the hot spot with hand massage, or a wooden dowel that looks suspiciously like my mother’s rolling pin, produces even greater pain.

I think pain excites David and amplifies his sadomasochistic leanings. Thankfully, the pain passes, probably because my brain has had enough and has blessedly injected an organic drug directly on the hot spot. Or maybe David just tires of my screams.

Completing the torment, we repeat the heel to toe routine to see if there is improved stability. In an ahamoment we discover a modicum of success. Wild cheering ensues. But it is short-lived when I wonder if I must endure hot spot torture each time I need to maintain my balance.

Which brings us to the “What good is this anyway” routine. A combination of kneeling, stretching and pulley yanking, this procedure screams for a specimen like me. Kneeling my left leg on a foam pad, the right is stretched on the floor behind me. A rope is attached to a pulley whose resistance can be adjusted from Wussto Don’t even think about trying it. My hands hold the rope in front of me and stretch it side to side while maintaining my balance. I think David made the whole thing up for Halloween.

The hardest part of the routine is switching legs. I try to swing my right leg forward and…nothing. My right leg refuses to move to the front of the foam pad. I’m stuck, so I grab my leg like it was a piece of meat hanging on a hook and sling it to the proper position.

We both wonder why I can effortlessly swing my left leg forward while my right leg balks like a three-year-old throwing a tantrum. David thinks it’s because my thigh muscle is too tight, so he once again begins a series of grabbing, squeezing, and rolling actions like those made popular during the Spanish Inquisition.

Completing the effort, we check for improvement. But there is none. My right leg is still stuck. We repeat the process, reversing the actions. No good. Still stuck. I know what’s coming and search for a way out.

I ask for a five-minute sabbatical so we can do some research without all the grabbing and squeezing. I look at the position of my left leg on the foam pad; it’s about three inches from the edge of the pad. Then I look at the right leg. The right leg is about six inches from the edge. Armed with this knowledge, I move my right leg three inches. I have an aha moment when it swings effortlessly to its proper position.

Three inches. What could be simpler?

Ockham would be proud of me.


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