Tip #678: Occam’s Razor at Home

“Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler.” Albert Einstein

I hate the Woody Allen quote: “Those who can’t do, teach,” because that is definitely a myth. Yet unfortunately, I occasionally find that I ignore the principles that I know and teach others to follow!

Take, for instance, Occam’s razor. It is commonly understood that this principle means that if there are two or more explanations for an occurrence, the simpler one is usually best.

This “law of briefness” is more directly translated from William of Ockham’s Latin to mean: “More things should not be used than are necessary.”

“Razor” is used as a metaphor, indicating that unnecessary things (like hair that is too long) should be shaved off.

So, let’s look at how Occam’s razor applies in real life. More specifically, let’s consider how I could have applied Occam’s razor in my own life. Because, if I had, I would have avoided a lot of time, stress and expense.

I have an elderly cat who has various ailments, some of which are quite serious. Recently my veterinarian told me that my cat needed to be on a special diet with low phosphorus. She gave me a link to a website that listed literally hundreds of food products that would serve that need. Unfortunately, there were very few meat-flavored foods.

This was problematic because, through trial and error, I’ve discovered that meat flavored food is the only one that masks the taste of my cat’s medicines. He simply won’t eat food flavored with fish or fowl.

I highlighted the meat-flavored foods on the first two pages of the list and began the long laborious process of trying to locate them. I spent a lot of time strolling the aisles in various pet food stores, finding only two foods on the list. This was great, because I could purchase only one or two cans for my cat to try.

My cat wouldn’t eat them.

In a panic, to ensure he got his medicine, I would throw away the rejected food and give him the food he had been eating for the past few years. This became the pattern whenever he rejected new food.

Some local pet stores kindly agreed to special order cases of the food I needed, and then sell me individual cans.

My cat wouldn’t eat them.

I went to the web, trying to locate a vendor who: (1) had the food I needed and (2) would sell individual cans. There were very few, but I was able to order food from two vendors.

My cat wouldn’t eat them.

I went further down the list of suggested foods and began the process of searching them out. One food seemed promising, because it sounded similar to the food he had been eating. However, I had to purchase a case.

My cat wouldn’t eat it.

Finally, I did what I should have done in the first place. I called the maker of the food my cat had been eating to find out how much phosphorous it contained. The answer was .5%, which was actually lower than any of the foods on the list from which I had been working!

The bottom line: the food my cat had been eating was exactly the food he needed.

I will be taking all of the other cans (approximately two cases worth) to our local humane society so that someone can benefit from this unnecessary time and trouble.

If only I had applied Occam’s razor and immediately sought the simplest solution. Of the two alternatives: an unknown food and a known food, the known food (if it contained the necessary amount of phosphorous) would have been the better choice.

To paraphrase Winston Churchill, “Everyone makes mistakes, but only the wise learn from their mistakes.” I certainly hope that I’m one of them!

May your learning be sweet.



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